Phenomenex Inc.

Location: Torrance
Founded: 1982
Core Business: Supplies for chromatography chemical analysis
Employees in 2007: 500
Employees in 2006: 325
Goal: To be the world leader in supplies for solid, liquid and gas chromatography
Driving Force: Growing demand for quicker and more accurate ways to identify unknown chemical compounds in a wide variety of industries, including drug testing, food and beverage safety and petrochemical analysis

Chemical testing hardly seems like a dynamic business. But in a day when athletes are routinely tested for drugs and entrepreneurs are racing to produce alternative fuels out of exotic substances, think again.


Technologies that can rapidly and accurately identify chemical compounds whether they are in human fluids, agricultural products or synthetic solutions are in high demand.


And that's why Phenomenex Inc. is a busy place these days.


The Torrance company has grown into a leader in the field of chromatography, which involves separating molecules to identify the content, purity and quantity of chemicals in a solid, liquid or gas substance.


Phenomenex doesn't make the machines that perform that complicated task, but it is a leading supplier of the disposable components that are used to prepare samples for testing.


"What we provide is really the heart of the machine," said founder and Chief Executive Fasha Mahjoor, a British-educated Iranian immigrant originally trained as an architect.


Phenomenex products are bought by laboratories run by the government, private industry and academia. And they are used to test a wide variety of substances, from petrochemicals, to biotechnology products to food and beverages.


The company is particularly known for working with its customers to develop products that can test for a wider array of substances, in higher volume and at greater sensitivity. This year Phenomenex won a spot on R & D; Magazine's R & D; 100 list for a technological advance in the testing gaseous substances.


Locally, customers range from biotech giant Amgen Inc. and nutritional supplement maker Herbalife Inc. to the City of Hope cancer research center and UCLA's Olympic Testing Lab, the only internationally accredited sports-testing lab of its type in the country.


The UCLA lab has seen its business grow as more athletic governing bodies require regular mandatory drug testing, even at the high school level. Aside from the Olympics, the lab's biggest customers are the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League and Minor League Baseball.


"We need products that are more sensitive because the cheaters are getting better. Products that can be used multiple times in an automatic system also are important," said Borislav Starcevic, a staff scientist at the lab for 16 years. "The faster we can process more samples with the same machine, the less likely we are to need to buy a new machine as the demand grows."

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