Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Hailey, new milestones in biotech

ORFLO Technologies hopes to revolutionize cell counting

Express Staff Writer

ORFLO computer analysis components are prepared for shipping. Photo by David N. Seelig

Bioengineer Ted Ayliffe moved his high-tech business from Seattle to Hailey last year for three reasons: lifestyle options, good schools and proximity to an airport.

Ayliffe, 44, said he first based his company in Seattle to be close to the computer industry, but eventually got tired of the gloomy weather.

"I used to say I would move to Sun Valley when I retire, but then started thinking, 'What am I waiting for?'" Ayliffe said.

Ayliffe designed telemark bindings for Targa and Black Diamond before going back to school and earning a doctorate degree in bioengineering, eventually designing a new generation of cell counters, capable of counting particles down to 3 microns in size. The period at the end of this sentence is 650 microns across.

Ayliffe, whose ORFLO Technologies opened for business in 2003, said he hopes to revolutionize the research and medical practice of counting cells and other tiny objects with his patented device, known as the "Moxie" cassette.

"We want to be the Mac of the life-science world, able to design prototypes quickly," he said. "We are extremely specialized and focused upon what we do."

The ORFLO Moxie device uses a laser-drilled hole through a miniature cassette. Cells and other items move in single-file through the hole and are measured, counted and analyzed by small computers. The process takes eight seconds.

Aycliffe said the device has applications in cancer and stem-cell research, as well as the dairy industry, which is required to measure the number of infected cells in milk.

Ayliffe regularly flies his private airplane from Hailey to the Boise and Salt Lake City to catch international flights to meet with potential buyers around the world.

ORFLO's product development, testing and shipping all take place on Airport Way in Hailey. Lathes, microscopes, assembly lines and refrigerators filled with Petri dishes of living cells fill the downstairs of ORFLO's offices. There is also a ping-pong table and deluxe sound system.

Upstairs, CEO Ayliffe and one of his partners inhabit an office with tall ceilings and a boardroom that looks down on the Friedman Memorial Airport runway.

"I looked at moving to Ketchum, but I couldn't find a place with enough room," said Ayliffe, who has room to expand next door to his offices as his company grows.

He said he plans to use a new provision in Hailey's building code to add on an upstairs accessory dwelling unit at ORFLO for overnight stays. Ayliffe said he could use the apartment on snowy nights when he doesn't want to drive to his home in Ketchum, where he lives with his wife and son.

His son attends the Community School in Sun Valley, about 13 miles from ORFLO headquarters.

Ayliffe employs seven people in Hailey and three electrical engineers in Seattle. He has 13 distributors selling his product around the word.

"There is a highly skilled workforce around here," he said.

He said he also hires people with specialized expertise from outside the area, but added that talking people into moving to the Wood River Valley doesn't take long.

"They say, 'Sun Valley—are you kidding me?'" he said.

Ayliffe said doing business in Hailey is "much easier" than doing business in Seattle.

"I needed a dumpster and I got one in about an hour," he said. "I opened a business account at a local store and they offered to bring supplies right over."

The Moxie cassette continues to evolve on a workbench on the upper floor of ORFLO, where Ayliffe is deep into the creation of his next-generation cell counter, one that he hopes will take the Moxie cassette from research laboratories into hospitals and clinics around the world. Electronic equipment, wires and computers surround what he hopes will be the next version of his invention.

"We're planning to apply markers to different types of cells, including diseased ones," Ayliffe said.

Tony Evans:

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