It's about potential, Accelerate says about its move to Tucson

2013-03-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:18:03Z It's about potential, Accelerate says about its move to TucsonDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

To Larry Mehren, CEO of Accelerate Diagnostics, moving the company from Denver to Tucson was "all about potential."

On Thursday, the company marked the first step toward fulfilling that potential with an invite-only grand opening of its headquarters and state-of-the-art labs on the fourth floor of the Herbert K. Abrams Public Health Center, 3950 S. Country Club Road.

Accelerate, which recently changed its name from Accler8 Technology Corp., is working to develop a rapid infection-detection testing system.

The company has already hired more than 30 people and is looking to double that in the next year or so, Mehren said.

"These folks are just the vanguard of what's to come," Mehren said, adding that the company is actively seeking to hire more staffers including microbiologists, engineers and chemists.

Accelerate's new, 15,000-square-foot space - built out by Pima County as part of an incentive package worth some $1.4 million - provides first-class lab facilities, not to mention a stunning view of the city and surrounding mountains.

Mehren credited the company's decision to move to Tucson to a team of helpful state and local government officials and business leaders, including the county and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. (TREO), the area's public-private economic-development agency.

"This is absolutely the right place for us to be," said Mehren, a former executive of Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems (now part of Roche Diagnostics) and part of a group that acquired a controlling stake in Accelerate last year.

TREO Chairman Steve Eggen said Accelerate also fits Tucson's vision of an expanding biosciences business sector, a key part of TREO's economic-development strategy.

"This is a great, tangible example of what we want to do with biotechnology, and diagnostics will be a focus," said Eggen, who recently retired as chief financial officer of Raytheon Missile Systems.

Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ramón Valadez said he's excited to see Accelerate grow.

"We saw the potential of what could be - this is only a step," Valadez said.

With new management and facilities in place, Mehren said the company will work toward a goal of completing development of a market-ready prototype of its BACcel infection-detection system by 2015.

The company says its patented, automated technology can identify bacteria in samples such as blood in hours - instead of the days it takes labs to culture and analyze specimens by hand - and can detect drug resistance in a specific bacteria strain.

The system is aimed at a deadly and growing problem of "superbugs" - antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, including hospital-acquired infections.

Accelerate is literally bound to grow, under conditions of some $2.4 million in financial incentives it got to move here.

Under terms of its August 2012 lease and agreement with Pima County, which includes cut-rate rent through 2015, the company had 18 months to hire at least 30 people with a median salary of at least $70,000.

And under a $1 million grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority, Accelerate must ramp up hiring to 65 jobs paying at least $63,000 a year and make capital investments of at least $4,520,000, according to regulatory filings.

When the company announced its move here last year, Mehren said it could eventually employ up to 300 people. Pima County has estimated that Accelerate could have an economic impact of $255 million at full production.

Jobs at Accelerate

Accelerate is actively hiring people including microbiologists, chemists and engineers. For more information or to apply, go to acceleratediagnostics.com/careers

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

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