Image: BioMagnetics

Ted Liberti may hold a record for the most C-suite positions held in a month. For 9 years, he was COO of BioMagnetic Solutions, a HappyValley-based immunomagnetic biotech firm that he started with his father, scientist and prolific inventor Dr. Paul A. Liberti. The company was in the midst of a multimillion dollar private equity (PE) acquisition by Gamma Biosciences, a life sciences tool platform created by global PE firm KKR in January when his father Paul died suddenly. Ted was launched into the CEO position as they finalized the acquisition, which he says will enable them to bring their life-changing magnetic cell selection technology for CAR-T cell and gene therapy product manufacture onto the world stage. Now that the acquisition is completed, Ted has transitioned to the company’s chief business officer (CBO), in charge of deal making, strategy and guiding BioMagnetics’ marketing and worldwide sales team. 

Ted Liberti

We caught up with him to talk about what sets BioMagnetic Solutions apart, how Happy Valley helped them through being acquired by Gamma Biosciences, and the intrinsic value of being an underdog. 

HVI: Tell us about BioMagnetic Solutions. What do you feel the world needs to know about you? 

Liberti: We started BioMagnetic Solutions in 2012 with the goal of developing next-generation ferrofluids and finding better ways to do magnetic cell separations for isolating circulating tumor cells (CTC) and platforms for isolation of relevant cells for clinical adoptive cell and gene therapy. We’re one of the top innovators in magnetic liquid technology for bioseparation in the world. We are focused on cells right now, but that same technology can be used to separate out proteins, DNA, cells, exosomes and antibodies. We were one of the first to create this kind of technology, and we remain one of the very best in our field, globally.

HVI: What’s your secret sauce? 

Liberti: There’s two things that come to mind right away: our technology and our tenacity. The first is our technology. In my eulogy to my father, I noted how much Paul resembled his beloved nano magnetic liquids. He was constantly in motion, always seeking out the next target, and so absolutely magnetic. If our competitor’s magnetic liquid particles could be categorized as basketball-sized, our particles would be tennis ball-sized. 

We are all about Occam’s razor—always keep the process and engineering simple, bring the best technology to the table (our nano magnetic ferrofluid liquids) for a quick, elegant, high performance result.

There’s all that energy seeking its target so well, quickly and constantly, never settling out of solution with wonderful, perpetual motion. Paul was the same. He’d started his first ferrofluid company, Immunicon, in 1984 (that was subsequently acquired by Johnson & Johnson who created a new SBU for Immunicon’s CELLSEARCH® products called Veridex) and he worked so nimbly and quickly to find the next problem that ferrofluids could solve. I think that’s what sets us apart—that Happy Valley ethos of working hard, focusing and not stopping until you get results—and never getting discouraged even in the face of setbacks.

Image: BioMagnetics

While working with KKR Gamma in 2020 and 2021, KKR Gamma’s team said they were blown away by our ability to parallel process even while under an intense, thorough due diligence process. They said, “Most companies we review just tread water, but you guys just keep running and running.” I think that quality sets our team apart, that ability to get down the football field as fast as we can with the least amount of expenditures is completely embedded in our DNA.

HVI: What are the pain points you’re uniquely solving for your customers?

Liberti: Primarily, it’s speed, performance and ease of use. With our X-GRAFFE cell separation device, a patient’s T cells can be purified from their immune system cells. These isolated T cells are genetically engineered to target and destroy a patient’s cancer in a process called adoptive cell therapy (ACT).  Our downstream partners genetically retrain the T cells we help select to seek out single malignant cancer cells in the paradigm-changing field called CAR-T cell therapy. With our competitors, the cell selection process takes between 3 to 5 hours. We can perform cell selection in 60 to 90 minutes. This is a huge benefit to the patient, who needs those cells back in their body as quickly as possible. It’s valuable to the company, who is paying their operators $200-$300 per hour to perform the cell manufacture process for their cell & gene therapies. We are able to get more from the cells and use less blood. 

It’s been hard and often stressful work since 2021, but we’ve had a blast doing it and solving the thorny problems we put before ourselves. And the hard work paid off.

We are all about Occam’s razor—always keep the process and engineering simple, bring the best technology to the table (our nano magnetic ferrofluid liquids) for a quick, elegant, high performance result.

HVI: From the perspective of founding BioMagnetic Solutions, what’s important to you about your company’s culture?  

Liberti: Before BioMagnetics, I started a company that was developing methods to use ferrofluid to remove heavy metals from fracking flowback water. Drawing on how we isolated cells with ferrofluids, I tricked my dad out of retirement (laughs) so he could start this company with me. I knew I needed his expertise—after all he had 64 patents, had brought his first  biotech firm public on NASDAQ  and won the Prix Galien, the Nobel Prize of commercial biotech & pharma. But more than that, I wanted to create a team that was scrappy and embraced relentless problem solving. 

Our network’s desire to succeed, prosper and put Happy Valley on the map grows each year and hopefully our successes can spur others to aim high, solve valuable problems, find the right partners and break through to the next level.

I knew we needed to be fast and not afraid to fail and get back up and try again. From 2012 to 2015, our team of scientists and I were working 6 ½ days a week, solving this massive matrix for making better high performance nano magnetic liquid ferrofluids. It’s been hard and often stressful work since 2021, but we’ve had a blast doing it and solving the thorny problems we put before ourselves. And the hard work paid off.

HVI: Why Happy Valley? What are the benefits of existing here in the Happy Valley ecosystem? 

Liberti: There are a lot of pros, but for me the biggest thing comes down to our attitude. Let’s be honest—Happy Valley is somewhat isolated from the big metropolitan areas. We aren’t Boston, Philly or Pittsburgh. I think that can give us an advantage. 

I love Jason Kelce’s speech when the Eagles finally won the Super Bowl in 2018. He lists all the negative things that had been said about the coaches and the players, one by one. “You’re a bunch of underdogs!” he says. “And you know what an underdog is? It’s a hungry dog…. And hungry dogs run faster! … Bottom line is, we wanted it more.”  

Image: BioMagnetics

Our Happy Valley advantage allowed us to get a tremendous amount of work done that positioned us to attract a world class investment group like KKR, and our ongoing cell therapy with them is going to change human history. That’s pretty special.

Happy Valley life science tech community has a very good cohesive network with many deep, loyal ties and connections that make it possible to overcome our remote location. Our network’s desire to succeed, prosper and put Happy Valley on the map grows each year and hopefully our successes can spur others to aim high, solve valuable problems, find the right partners and break through to the next level. We have to remember to not be complacent and to never be arrogant, since Penn State is far from metro hubs like UPenn, CMU or MIT who are surrounded by innovation and tech companies. 

We need to keep that underdog attitude, exploit being small but mighty, and punch above our weight. We need to want it more, and I think we increasingly are getting hungrier.

Our Happy Valley advantage allowed us to get a tremendous amount of work done that positioned us to attract a world class investment group like KKR, and our ongoing cell therapy with them is going to change human history. That’s pretty special.