In the Beginning There was Celgene
The Reagent Project’s first major donor is now transforming research in labs in South Africa, Tanzania, and the U.S.
In June of 2015, one month after its founding, The Reagent Project (TRP) had a bounty of ideas to level the science playing field by offering researchers in need of lab materials those very items. However, the one key ingredient we at TRP lacked was the equipment to actually make our ideas a reality. Needless to say, this was no small detail.
And then the fates intervened—when a former colleague of TRP Founder Dr. Marcella Flores’ put her in touch with Celgene, a New Jersey-based biotechnology company specializing in treatments for cancer and inflammatory diseases.
Dr. Flores was quickly connected to Robert Faltas, now Senior Manager in charge of global good- manufacturing-practice compliance, and a man already philosophically aligned with TRP’s mission—but in need of a way to execute those convictions. “I was known internally as someone who had a philanthropic interest, with an ability to create programs to fill those needs ,” says Faltas, who in addition to his work at Celgene sits on the board of a local non-profit. “This included providing others with opportunities to advance healthcare, while utilizing lab items that may have otherwise been discarded—which just increases waste costs to our business, while preventing opportunities for other labs to maximize the potential of this so-called ‘waste.’”
Definitely a man after our own hearts. And Dr. Flores’ and Faltas’ first contact couldn’t have happened at a better time.
Faltas reported that Celgene was vacating a large building—one that had multiple stories of stored equipment destined for retirement. He invited Flores to tour the large, multi-leveled site and take stock of what she might want. Like a scientist in a candy store, she perused through shelves of equipment, both old and never used and compiled a list of 48 items. And like that, TRP had a diverse and thorough inventory to offer our applicants, and our #ScienceForAll seed began to actually grow and flourish. “Before Celgene, we only had an idea that TRP's model could work,” says Flores. “Celgene made us real. They are a well-known, global organization that chose to work with teeny tiny us. This was
Today, Celgene’s re-used equipment has embarked on a glamorous second act, travelling the world by land and sea. Incubating shakers arrived on the shores of Tanzania, and are now helping the nonprofit FAME perform diagnostic tests at the sole medical lab in a 140 kilometer radius of the facility. At the Durban University of Technology, in South Africa, a range of pieces—such as incubators, biosafety cabinets, and centrifuges—are hard at work preparing students for science- and tech-sector jobs, helping build a sustainable and thriving STEM industry in the country. And at Hampton University, a historically black school in Virginia, Celgene’s former cell tracks analyzer is helping scientists’ research cancer among African Americans, who have the highest death rate of any population in the U.S. for most cancers. “The cell tracks analyzer [can] provide invaluable preliminary data on the status of circulating tumor cells in African American men,” says Dr. Luisel Ricks-Santi, Director of the Hampton University Cancer Research Center.
“Celgene was thrilled to help The Reagent Project, while supporting several of their own corporate responsibility aims,” says Zeba Khan, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Celgene. “This partnership further enabled Celgene to put patients first with life-saving equipment and opportunities for new research. It also helped to reduce the company’s waste to landfill, increase support of local communities, and extend opportunities for STEM education.”
So thank you Robert Faltas and the entire Celgene team for having faith in a young project name Reagent—and being an agent of innovation for labs around the globe.