Image Alt

Utah Business

Carterra, a biotech startup based in Salt Lake City, is trying to make the screening process of life-saving drugs, faster and more efficient.

Carterra is streamlining the arduous process of screening new life-saving drugs

Biotherapeutic drug discovery is typically complex, time-consuming, and expensive. But new technology from Carterra, a biotech company based in Salt Lake City, enables the months-long intensive drug discovery process to be completed in just days. 

Formerly Wasatch Microfluidics, Carterra’s technology enables much larger experiments to be conducted with lower sample requirements than was previously possible, enabling biopharma researchers to receive high-quality information earlier and make better decisions sooner. 

Josh Eckman, Carterra’s CEO, says the company’s LSA platform can generate 100X the data in 10 percent of the time and with 1 percent of the sample requirements and consumable costs of other systems. The platform was used during the pandemic by various industry and academic labs and the world’s first Covid therapeutic was enabled by Carterra’s technologies, he says. 

In 2021, Eli Lilly and AbCellera used the Carterra LSA for antibody screening and characterization while looking for a Covid therapeutic. Because of LSA’s ability to produce huge amounts of data and high resolution so quickly, they were able to identify a candidate target—including backup antibody candidates—and find a therapeutic that could be passed on to clinical trials in only 90 days. 

“These therapeutics…have helped millions of patients around the world during the pandemic as an alternative to vaccination, saving tens of thousands of lives in the process,” Eckman says. Today, the Carterra LSA has been adopted by 17 of the 20 top pharmaceutical companies globally, helping drive the new wave of biotherapeutic drug discovery. 

Carterra’s technology also helps level the playing field between large pharma companies and smaller organizations. “It is now possible for ‘a few people in a garage’ to compete with the largest global pharmaceutical companies, due to the power of our LSA platform,” Eckman says. “it is a force multiplier and equalizer for small organizations and a significant accelerating resource for large organizations…We believe this will increase competition, leading to better outcomes for patients, lower drug prices, and wider availability.”

Eckman says Carterra’s funding journey started with initial funding from government grants and angel investors. In 2014, Pfizer partnered with Carterra with a million-dollar investment. Two years later, Carterra raised its first major institutional investment from Telegraph Hill Partners, a life science-focused venture capital firm in San Francisco. Carterra has raised multiple rounds of VC since Eckman says. Last October, the company had raised approximately $50M in funding to date, according to the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.

Raising money can be a full-time job, in addition to the more-than-full-time job of launching and growing a business, Eckman says, and it’s hard to balance those competing interests. His advice to those in a similar situation as he was? Surround yourself with a strong team that can help shoulder the burdens of growing the business while you work to secure the resources necessary to survive and thrive.

Eckman suggests seeking like-minded investors who understand your vision and have the domain experience and patience to see it through. He recommends avoiding the temptation to accept funding from investors or investment mechanisms that would be a bad match.  

Patience, Eckman says, is hard when you’re worried about making payroll. Carterra avoided some near misses with investors who would not have been a good fit. He says finding investors with the right backgrounds, culture fit, and market experience has paid dividends.  

If Eckman could go back and do anything differently, it would have been to fill key roles earlier—as soon as funding and product-market fit allowed, he says. He would have raised enough money as early as practicable to make that possible. “Our growth really started to kick in as we brought on executives with track records of success in their disciplines and excellent skills in recruiting and team-building,” he says. 

There seems to be a never-ending parade of challenges that could sink a young company, but Eckman says the key is to identify unmet needs in large and dynamic markets and to focus on how you will provide a substantial, differentiated, and sustained value to your customers.  

“Identify this value proposition, demonstrate it, hone it with close customer feedback, and prove you can secure customers at a reasonable cost,” he says. “Then, and only then, do you have the foundations of a scalable company.” Hire great people and get out of their way, Eckman suggests. 

“Entrepreneurship is a wild and exciting ride. It is an organic, creative, passionate, humbling, and gut-wrenching adventure,” he says. “There is a special satisfaction that comes from creating something which did not previously exist, and more so if your creation impacts the human condition in meaningful ways.”

Elainna Ciaramella (pronounced Elena Chairamella) was born and raised in Los Angeles, but spent over a decade near Laguna Beach in Orange County, California. After moving to sunny Las Vegas, the “entertainment capital of the world,” her yearning to live close to an outdoor playground brought her to southern Utah, where she now lives a few short miles from Tech Ridge, Atwood Innovation Plaza at Utah Tech, Dixie Technical College, and some of the best trails in the Beehive State. As a researcher, journalist and hopelessly devoted storyteller, she’s spent many full days interviewing founders, CEOs, and C-suite executives from all over the country. Beyond writing, her passions include strength training, art, music, hiking, and reading.