On the Front Line of Biotech: STEMCELL Technologies

STEMCELL Technologies, the envy of entrepreneurs across Canada, produces standardized, high-quality cell culture media for growing stem cells, selling to academic researchers and pharmaceutical companies across the world.

Stem cells are the “mother cells” of the body, having the ability to transform into other types of tissue. This has enormous implications for patient treatment across a large number of diseases and medical conditions, including leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and diabetes. The media that STEMCELL produces is optimized for the growth of stem cells.

Stem cell research has become common. Previously, research was done with embryonic stem cells. That’s rarely the case these days. Now, researchers can make stem cells from almost any cell in the body by manipulating its gene expression to have the traits of a stem cell. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells. Researchers need a medium with particular nutrients in which to grow these cells.

STEMCELL Technologies produces these tissue culture media along with cell isolation products, giving researchers the tools needed for study.

“We provide the picks and shovels for the stem cell gold rush,” says President and CEO Dr. Allen Eaves. The company was spun out of the Terry Fox Laboratory at the BC Cancer Agency in 1993 by Eaves, who was a Director at the unit and a research scientist working on bone marrow transplants. Since its inception, STEMCELL has earned over $550 million in revenue including approximately $100 million earned last year, the vast majority from export markets.

STEMCELL Technologies employs over 800 professionals, around 650 of whom are in British Columbia. Of these, Eaves estimates approximately 100 are PhDs, and around another 100 have a Master of Sciences.

The company has been a destination for the province’s bright science students. “We have a wonderful education system, turning out all sorts of PhDs and post-docs,” Eaves says.

“These are people that love science, are motivated to do science, and are trained to do excellent science.”

The growth of the company has been staggering, and over the next ten years, Eaves anticipates continued growth necessitating the hiring of around 2,000 more people.

“We need to have the companies in Canada to be the receptor for these smart young students,” Eaves says. “And I want STEMCELL to be one of those.”

STEMCELL is also an excellent example of a technology company at which professional women thrive, with over half the employees being women and a leadership team of ten composed evenly of men and women.

Joan Sheehan, Vice President of Sales at STEMCELL, joined the company in its first year. Sheehan says, “Our only criteria for hiring is merit. We operate in a highly competitive global market, and we need to hire only the very best people.”