Stephen Dueker, chief scientific officer for Vitalea Science, explains how the accelerator mass spectrometer works during an open house Sept. 24 at the Davis company, 2121 Second St. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo


Local business branching out after acquisition

By From page A9 | October 06, 2013

Vitalea Science, a Davis company that’s now owned by Germany-based Eckert & Ziegler, is in the process of increasing its services and is considering expansion.

The technology-driven business, which has a laboratory at 2121 Second St., has provided bio-analytical measurements for drug development and biological research since 2003.

Stephen Dueker, the company’s chief scientific officer and one of its founders, explained that the work takes a sophisticated piece of technology, known as an accelerator mass spectrometer.

Put in simple terms, it’s a highly specified atom counter that quantifies isotopes of carbon. It was developed originally for the field of carbon dating, a method of tracing age.

Vitalea Science formed a collaboration with Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 2008 to obtain one of the instruments, using it for pharmaceutical companies, by tracing the carbon signatures of drugs in early phases of development

But Dueker said the accelerator mass spectrometer has a wealth of applications. Other possible uses were examined when Vitalea Science was acquired by Eckert & Ziegler, an international technology company, in September 2012.

Since the purchase, the equipment is now being used to help companies like Davis’ Far Western Anthropological Research Group carbon-date unearthed artifacts, the original purpose of the spectrometry machine.

“We’ve also added a bio-fuel authentication line of business,” Dueker said. “We can tell a company, by the carbon content of its bio-fuels, what percentage of their product is renewable.

“So we’ve branched out into these two lines of businesses, as well as focused on solidifying and building our core line of business — service to the pharmaceutical industry.”

Some management changes have taken place at Vitalea Science since its acquisition. Paul Steinberg joined the company a month ago as a general manager, moving from Southern California to Davis.

In that time he’s been inspired by the work of the local company’s 15 employees. He’s also been encouraged by Eckert & Ziegler’s investment in Vitalea, and more generally, the Davis area.

“What it might mean, and what I hope it means,” Steinberg said, “is that more companies see Davis as a fantastic hub, particularly with its academic bent.

“The quality of the service we provide is directly related to the people we employ, and there’s a wealth of talent in the region.”

Frank Yeager, president and CEO of the German company’s isotope products division, said his firm recognized the potential of Vitalea Science.

That’s why there’s talk of a possible expansion to the 5,000-square-foot laboratory and its personnel. And he assured that Vitalea Science is solidly rooted in Davis.

“Because other than the equipment, the real magic is the people here operating it,” Yeager said. “So the goal is to grow the company, and continue to grow it in the area.”

Being in Davis is beneficial for both parties, he added. It’s a sentiment that’s shared by Vitalea Science’s new general manager, who’s hoping to showcase that.

“We’re a local company, that employs local people,” Steinberg said, adding that the company is using locally developed science in interesting commercial applications.

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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