#WeareCvilleBioHub: Thomas Thorpe, CEO, Afton Scientific

As part of our #WeareCvilleBioHub series, we chat with leaders in the BioHub on innovation, collaboration and the future for our biotech community here in Charlottesville.

What does Afton Scientific do?
Afton Scientific is a small batch manufacturer of sterile injectable drugs. Companies come to us because they can’t get their small batches done by large scale pharmaceutical manufacturers and need a small boutique facility to make short runs of a few hundred to a few thousand vials.

There are many large pharmaceutical companies out there. How have you been able to stay competitive as a relatively small company in the space?
When a customer comes to us, they get the whole company’s attention, versus going to a large company that has many different gatekeepers. For example, we had a conference call the other day with a customer who was anxious to move their products over to us. They asked: Who’s the point person? And we looked around and said, it’s all of us. You want to talk to the floor supervisor? Quality control? Or the CEO? Just call them up. Our customers have the opportunity to embrace our entire organization. That’s the biggest difference, I think.

What is one thing you’ve learned starting and growing a pharmaceutical company?
Trust is everything in this business because the dollars are so high and the patient’s health is at risk.

What would you say to other entrepreneurs and founders considering Charlottesville as home for their biotech company?
Charlottesville is a terrific place. It’s much easier to launch in Charlottesville, especially for biotech founders, because there’s an active community. In much larger cities like Boston, it’s very diluted, there’s not really an identity. This area has a unique history that creates a strong identity. You think about Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, and the idea that everybody pursues liberty and happiness. There’s nothing more liberating than being an entrepreneur and pursuing your version of happiness. So it makes sense that’s kind of the vibe here.

How important is talent to Afton Scientific?
This is a zero-defect industry. One mistake can seriously harm somebody, so we’re very meticulous in how we train people and there’s an enormous education process. We’re now approaching 70 employees and for most employees to get into the cleanroom, it takes over a year of training and experience. We look for people who are bright, have a hard work ethic and are curious.

How does CvilleBioHub contribute to the community?
CvilleBioHub is exceedingly valuable. It disrupts the entrepreneur’s mind from totally focusing on what they need to do next and encourages them to come out of that space into a community space. I think CvilleBioHub provides an opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs, collaborate, share guidance, and offer support.