ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

Don't bother looking for Pacific Science Inc. in the Yellow Pages. The research equipment sales company yanked its ad for cryogenic freezers a few years ago after receiving one too many distressed phone calls from family members of the dearly departed.

"Somebody's daughter called and wanted to freeze her mother who had just passed away," said Michael Lebbin, 50 percent owner of Pacific Science. "That's when I said that's it (for the ad)."

Even without that kind of patronage, Pacific Science has grown rapidly over the past five years by selling equipment to businesses involved in the medical field. That growth stems from the explosion of new biotechnology firms and the corresponding need for an array of specialty equipment like incubators, freezers, biological safety cabinets, and even metal cassettes (designed by Pacific Science) to hold bags of umbilical-cord blood.

The El Segundo firm sells laboratory equipment to industry giants like Amgen Inc. and Chiron Corp.; research centers at UCLA, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and other hospitals; and a host of smaller firms hoping to develop the next great wonder-drug.

"Biotech is advancing very rapidly, so there are always opportunities for companies like ours to fill the needs that arise when companies move into new areas," Lebbin said.

Among their main revenue producers are the biological safety cabinets that sell for $3,000 to $10,000 and provide lab workers with a sterile work environment to handle blood and other organic material.

They also sell lots of cryogenic storage tanks that range in price from $700 to $40,000, depending on size. Temperatures inside the tanks can hit -321 degrees to freeze and store tissue and bone-marrow samples.

The 34-year-old Lebbin said the company also makes money renting unusual medical equipment for use as props in science fiction films and television shows.

The company was formed in 1995 when Lebbin and his partner Chris Conrad decided to merge their separate sales businesses. Lebbin originally sold liquid nitrogen freezers for Union Carbide. About 10 years ago, he decided to go it alone, operating out of his apartment. Conrad was representing several lab equipment manufacturers at the time. The two met and became friends while working sales routes in Southern California.

Their first year in business was tough for reasons that can be summed up in three words: health care reform. With talk swirling in Washington of placing price controls on pharmaceuticals, a lot of biotech companies put capital projects on ice.

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