Headquarters: West Los Angeles
Founder-Chief Executive: Agi Hirshberg
Business: Drug development services.
Agi Hirshberg is rare among medical research company chief executives. She’s not a doctor or laboratory researcher like most chief executives at biomedical firms. Hirshberg comes from the sporting wear industry. She went into medical research in 1998, after her husband died of pancreatic cancer at 54, eight months after he was diagnosed.
“I lost my husband because there were no effective drugs to treat it,” she said.
After his death, she established the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research and funded a research laboratory and a chair in pancreatic cancer research at UCLA.
She didn’t know she would go beyond that. But in 2004, Hirshberg met Paul Lee and Laszlo G. Boros, doctors who were working at LA BioMed to quantify the results of testing for drugs designed to treat cancer and diabetes. So she and three partners – Lee, Boros and attorney David Manheim – co-founded Sidmap to advance and commercialize their work.
“Typically, the process from concept to drug is usually 10 to 20 years. I saw this as a fast track,” she said. “And if I was going to make a difference in science, I wanted to do it bigger, better and faster.”
Researchers at drug companies, independent labs and universities send samples and test results to Sidmap for analysis. Clients can use the results to verify their success or to invalidate faulty research and stop it earlier.
“We can save countless lives that might be lost when a drug is released and there are bad side effects,” Hirshberg said, “or lawsuits over unanticipated side effects.”
The company applied for government money but didn’t get any. It was funded by Hirshberg and her partners and is now selling its testing services. The technology was developed at LA BioMed but a patent application was rejected so the company does not pay licensing fees to the institute.
While Hirshberg still laments the “snail’s pace” of academic research, she is proud that her company delivers results to clients within six weeks.
Her experience in the apparel business, where she worked with brands such as Adidas, Under Armour and Speedo, doesn’t give her much of an edge as a biomed chief executive.
“How does it translate? It doesn’t,” she said. “In a standard business, in 18 months you know if you either have a success or you don’t. This is a long haul.”