Spokane Journal of Business

Bio-OriGyn’s lubricant to launch in December

Drugstore.com will buy 4,000 boxes of product; Unicep to mix, package

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Bio-OriGyn LLC, of Spokane, has signed two pacts through which it expects to bring to market its first consumer product for human infertility.


One of the agreements is with Unicep Packaging Inc., of Sandpoint, which will mix and fill about 24,000 vials of the gel product, called Pre-Seed. The gel is a sperm-friendly vaginal lubricant derived from a proprietary plant sugar.


The other agreement is with Drugstore.com, a big, Bellevue, Wash.-based Internet retailer, which will begin selling Pre-Seed on its Web site in December, says Joanna Ellington, CEO of Bio-OriGyn (pronounced bio-origin).


Although Bio-OriGyn has previously developed products for animal reproduction and to aid in the storage of blood, its currently really focused on the integrated market for human reproduction, Ellington says. She and fellow Washington State University scientist Sylvia Oliver founded the company in 1994 as Advanced Reproduction Technologies Inc. A subsidiary company, ING Fertility LLC, is marketing Bio-OriGyns products for human reproduction.


Pre-Seeds potential market is the 11 million couples in the U.S. who are having difficulty trying to conceive, Ellington says. Such couples frequently have problems with vaginal dryness caused by stress or as a side effect of fertility drugs, she says. Typical vaginal lubricants are toxic to sperm, she says, but Pre-Seed has been shown to promote sperm function.


An online focus group conducted by Bio-OriGyn indicated that 76 percent of the participants in the group would use Pre-Seed most of the time, Ellington says.


The comments were really compelling. People are very interested in it, she says.


The company expects to launch its second ING Fertility product in the second quarter next year, she says. Like an earlier product that Bio-OriGyn licensed to a California company, the new product, QuikWash, is not a consumer product but rather is used by health-care professionals to aid in artificial insemination. Bio-OriGyn already has talked with another local biotech company, Biomedex Inc., about the possibility of manufacturing it, Ellington says.


Sales of Pre-Seed and QuikWash are expected to generate $2.5 million in revenue next year, although Bio-OriGyn is expecting to post an annual loss until 2004.


To manage its anticipated growth, Bio-OriGyn has added a chief operating officer, Tom Daugherty, and other managers who provide their services on a consulting basis. One of those, John Warner, director of product and regulatory development, worked for 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry, Ellington says.


John really brings us forward because he knows how to get the lube in the tube, she says.


In addition, Bio-OriGyn is seeking $1.5 million in capital investment. Ellington says the company is in discussions with potential investors, and she is confident it will reach its fund-raising goal.


Shed like to find local investors, she adds, because investors from other cities typically want her to move Bio-OriGyn to wherever they are as a condition. Finding a local source also was one factor in Bio-OriGyns choice of Unicep Packaging for its manufacturing, she adds.


We were looking overseas, in Indiana, Seattle; we were really pleased we can keep the manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest, she says.


Unicep currently is making samples of Pre-Seed, which will be used by couples in a local focus group this fall.


The company will begin full-scale production of the gel in October.


Drugstore.com initially has ordered 4,000 boxes of the product, which will have a suggested retail price of $9.95 per three-tube box, Ellington says.


The retailers Web site, which is partially owned by the Internet giant Amazon.com, will help launch the product by taking orders for it a month before its available, and by e-mailing its customers who have bought pre-conception products in the past, Daugherty says.


Bio-OriGyn chose an Internet launch of the product because the market of couples who are trying to conceive is very targeted; they congregate on the Internet and get information on the Internet, he says.


The companys agreement with Drugstore.com prohibits Internet sales other than through its site, although Bio-OriGyn may pursue non-Internet distribution of the product, Ellington says.

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