Two Were Only Colorado Companies Invited

By Pat Ferrier

Two Fort Collins companies making names for themselves in the high-tech and biotech industries might soon be able to add homeland security to their portfolios.

Atrix Laboratories and Optibrand, Ltd., LLC, were the only Colorado companies invited to the Small Business Homeland Security Expo 2002 in Washington, D.C., last week.

After Sept. 11, the government was looking for products and ideas that could help protect the country. Sens. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., and John Kerry, D-Mass., sponsored the Expo. Optibrand promoted its retinal imaging of livestock to protect the country's food supply, while Atrix discussed different ways its drug delivery systems could be used in the wake of biological attacks.

The nation's agricultural industry is vulnerable to biological terrorism and lacks adequate measures to deal quickly with such an event, the National Association of Conservation Districts warned at its annual convention in February.

Corrie Brown, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Georgia, said at the time that an outbreak of foot and mouth disease would cost the United States at least $27 billion in lost trade.

A hypothetical outbreak confined to California would amount to $13 billion in losses.

Brown said he doesn't believe the United States can prevent the accidental or intentional introduction of plant and animal diseases. The best it can do is be prepared to minimize the outbreaks.

That's where Optibrand can help, its CEO John Shadduck said.

Optibrand's retinal identification system, which uses a camera and software to photograph the unique blood vessels in the back of an animal's eye, could rapidly help identify sick animals and contain any outbreak in livestock, such as foot-and- mouth disease, Shadduck said.

"Compared to anthrax, foot- and-mouth disease would be hundreds or thousands of times more devastating," Shadduck said.

An outbreak last year in the United Kingdom led to the culling of 6 million head of cattle, and all but decimated the country's meat and livestock market.

Retinal identifications can be used to track where infected animals might have come from, where they were sent and how much other livestock might be affected.

Quarantines can be set up quickly and outbreaks contained, Shadduck said.

It would allow the government "to get its hands around an outbreak rapidly," he said.

Systems like Optibrand's however, aren't the first line of defense, Shadduck said.

"The first line is how to keep it from coming across the border. The next line is very early diagnosis, well-trained farmers and veterinarians, and health people who can spot early symptoms."

The third step is Optibrand's technology, he said.

Before any national identification program is put in place, however, the government must deal with a host of security and civil rights issues.

"Farmers may say it's not the government's business how many animals I have. It becomes rolled into Big Brother issues," Shadduck said.

"I don't think the government is at that point, but it's out there being thought about."

For Atrix, the applications for homeland security are less well defined.

Its Bema technology, a wafer-thin disk that delivers drugs through the inside of the cheek, and Atrigel, which releases drugs into the body over time, possibly could be used for vaccines, said Danette Meyer, Atrix director of investor relations.

"We don't have a specific product we were discussing, but it raised Atrix's profile and gave them the chance to see what we could do. It's quite an honor to be invited," Meyer said.

Atrix and Optibrand were among more than 100 companies nominated for inclusion in the Expo by Colorado's Republican Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

A committee made the final decision on which companies to invite.

The magnitude of the mission is not lost on company representatives.

"We wouldn't be involved in this if not for the sense of duty and patriotism," said Sean Moriarty, Atrix's vice president of licensing and counsel, who represented Atrix at the Expo.

"The government is working really hard to make homeland security work," he said.

Shadduck said Optibrand is proud of its technology and its ability to solve real problems for real people.

Having it considered as part of the homeland defense, "makes you stand a little taller."