Sunderland biotech firm has big plans

Coun Harry Trueman and Gregg Iceton, of Prokarya.
Coun Harry Trueman and Gregg Iceton, of Prokarya.
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Biotech company Prokarya has big plans for tiny things.

The firm, which analyses bacteria in water on behalf of customers in the water industry, testing bathing water and tracing its microbial content, is the only company of its kind in the UK.

It grew out of research carried out by founder Gregg Iceton as part of his doctorate, which he is studying with sponsorship from companies in the water industry.

Prokarya began trading from its base at the North East BIC in October and is now recruiting its first technical apprentice to carry out laboratory analysis.

The company aims to create 20 to 30 jobs in the next three years, ranging from scientific and data analysis posts to administration roles and a team collecting field samples.

“The business has grown out of research I have been doing for the last four years as part of a STREAM engineering doctorate,” said Gregg.

“The majority of the time is spent within the water companies and the research is very applied.

“I realised there was a demand for the service that Prokarya supplies in the UK. Our nearest competitor is in Paris.”

The company offers two services – BacTrack, to detect and source-track faecal bacteria in water samples such as bathing water or reservoirs; and BacPro, which can link the identity of bacteria to reactor performance, such as sewage works.

The two services can be tailored to the customer’s needs, and Gregg is now in discussion with potential clients.

He opted to base the business in Sunderland after talking to the city council about his ambitions for the company.

The base at the BIC offered a suitable laboratory and other support facilities for a new business.

The council’s business investment team was also able to direct Gregg to suitable sources of funding to get the business off the ground.

“That kind of assistance was really valuable to me,” he said Gregg.

“The problem with seeking funding is venture capital financiers are looking to invest hundreds of thousands and I was looking for tens of thousands.”

Deputy council leader Coun Harry Trueman said: “Prokarya is a welcome addition to the growing biotech sector in Sunderland.

“We’re delighted Mr Iceton chose Sunderland as the business’ base.”