Genesis Biotechnology Group is one of the few corporate campuses that can be found in Hamilton Township. Its 60,000-square-foot facility on Yardville-Hamilton Square Road houses offices and labs and serves as the headquarters of an umbrella company that employs around 1,700 people.
While there are many biotech companies in the Route 1 corridor, it’s unlikely that any of them have an approach to business similar to Genesis, which funds its research not through investment, but through the financial returns of a sprawling real estate portfolio of more than 100 properties.
Founder and CEO Eli Mordechai was born in Israel, where his father, Ovadia, was a plumber and his mother, Mary, was a kindergarten teacher. He moved to the United States at age 16 and graduated from Rider University with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and earned a doctorate in biochemistry at Temple.
Mordechai, who lives in Robbinsville, says the origins of his business career can be traced to the days he spent at Temple learning about enzymes and proteins. He was especially fascinated by the polymerase chain reaction, which is a process for exponentially copying DNA sequences.
Mordechai thought the medical testing industry was not using PCR to its full potential. The technology allows a tiny fragment of DNA to be copied millions of times, allowing an otherwise undetectable gene to cross the threshold of perceptibility. “For example, if someone is infected with a virus or bacteria, the amount of bacteria or virus that someone is infected with could be a very small amount,” Mordechai says. The amount can be so small, the patient may not even have symptoms.
But a PCR test could allow doctors to detect diseases before a patient showed symptoms. At the time, in the early 1990s, Mordechai says it was only being used to detect HIV, although there were many other conditions where it might be useful. “I saw a use for that kind of technology, specifically in women’s health,” Mordechai says.
After graduation, Mordechai completed his post-doctorate work at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. He then spent two years working as director of research and development at the Immunosciences Laboratory in Beverly Hills, California.
But his idea to use PCR for testing, which had taken hold in his student days, never let go.
In 1997 he moved back to the East Coast to pursue his idea. He founded Medical Diagnostic Laboratories in a 1,200-square-foot lab in Mount Laurel. He raised his $300,000 startup money from private investors and a financial institution. The fledgling company had just three people. Mordechai was answering phones, collecting specimens from doctors, marketing, performing lab tests, and analyzing the results.
Mordechai’s tests for women’s health as well as for Lyme disease were in high demand, and MDL struggled to expand fast enough to keep up. It quickly took over the neighboring suites and before long it had grown to 7,000 square feet and could grow no further in its original location. “I had to reject some new business because I didn’t have the space,” Mordechai says. “That’s the time we decided to move to Hamilton, and we built the corporate offices that we have here.”
To find a new home, Mordechai looked north, to Hamilton, in the pharma corridor and constructed the large building occupied by MDL and other companies under the Genesis Biotechnology Group umbrella.
A 2003 profile of the rapidly expanding company (U.S. 1, November 12, 2003) describes Mordechai, then vice president, as the scientific mind behind the operation, with Mordechai’s brother Moradi, a builder and developer, serving as CEO. By now the lab was serving clients throughout the country.
“We became an international lab during this period also,” Mordechai says. Despite its new headquarters, however, MDL was relatively small compared to industry giants such as Quest and Lab Corp.
“We cannot compete on size, so we have to compete on science,” he says. His pitch to physicians was giving them more information than his competitors. For example, he says, a traditional lab test would tell a doctor whether or not a patient had gonorrhea. MDL could not only identify the specific pathogen, but also which antibiotics it was resistant to, allowing a doctor to prescribe the right treatment the first time. “We are pinpointing the therapy,” Mordechai says.
In addition to running lab tests, Mordechai’s company also performed research. One of the scientific papers he wrote during this time was about tick-borne diseases. Mordechai says MDL’s experiments showed that the tick that transmits Lyme disease can harbor other pathogens, such as Bartonella henselae, a bacteria that causes a cat scratch disease.
“So many patients who were chronically ill mistakenly thought they had Lyme disease, but actually they had Bartonella, or they had both diseases,” Mordechai says. “We found that those ticks are actually cesspools to many other bacteria beyond the one that we knew.” (The Centers for Disease Control says that while some ticks may carry some species of Bartonella bacteria, there is still no convincing evidence that ticks can transmit Bartonella infection to humans.)
On another occasion, MDL worked with the CDC to create an antibiotic-resistance profile of Trichomonas vaginalis, a common sexually transmitted infection.
“This is a more tailored medicine approach,” Mordechai says. “Our next-generation sequencing technology is a unique technology in molecular biology that makes us capable of identifying resistance profiles with a very short turnaround time.”
The traditional way to do these tests, Mordechai says, is to isolate the bug from patients, grow it in Petri dishes, and treat it with different antibiotics to see which ones work. “That might take three or four weeks. And in the meantime, the patient is actually walking around unwell with the symptoms,” he says. “We don’t do that anymore. We know that the resistance profile for the antibiotic is embedded genetically in the bug itself, so we are looking for those specific genetic elements, with technology, some of which was invented here. We are able, within 24 hours, to tell the physician, yes he or she is positive for this bug, and this is the specific antibiotic you should use, and this is the antibiotic you should not use.”
The advantage for the patient is a quicker and more targeted treatment, while healthcare providers spend less on ineffective treatments.
Doing all this research into antibiotic resistance and other areas led Mordechai to venture into the drug discovery and development business, founding companies that are dedicated to R&D. Shortly after moving to Hamilton, Mordechai formed Genesis Biotechnology Group, which now includes multiple companies under that umbrella.
The name Genesis reflects Mordechai’s approach to research. “It means, ‘From the beginning,’” Mordechai says. “My professor and mentor from Temple told me, ‘Eli, if you want to take a new look at something, you must first look at an old book.’ As a scientist, if you look at the work they did in the 20th century or the 19th century, and you read the papers there, I strongly believe there’s a lot of information that’s unique because they had the brain, but they didn’t have the technology. If you read the discussions of papers from Nature or Science from the beginning of the century, they’re fascinating. You can see the gap between what they were thinking or the direction they were going and what technology was available for them to answer the questions they had.”
In addition to running Genesis, Mordechai has a foot in the academic field. He is an associate professor at Rowan University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and sits on the Dean Development Council at Rowan University (formally UMDNJ). He is also active on the chemistry/biochemistry advisory board at Burlington County Community College.
Mordechai founded Oncoveda, a cancer treatment research company, and the Institute of Metabolic Disorders (IMD). Mordechai says Oncoveda is focusing on bladder cancer and prostate cancer. “This complements nicely our laboratory that does women’s health,” he says. The IMD is focusing on drugs to control sugar metabolism and fight liver diseases. Mordechai says a third drug discovery company, focused on immuno-oncology, is in the process of launching.
“The hottest spot of research right now is immune oncology,” Mordechai says. “Every Fortune 500 company, and even tier-two companies, have a program in immune oncology, from the big boys to mid-size companies. Immuno-oncology is the future.”
Multiple companies in the Route 1 corridor are involved in research and development on immunotherapy cancer drugs. All are taking different approaches, but they share the same strategy of using the body’s own immune system to attack cancer. Among local companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, headquartered on Princeton Pike, led the pack with its drug Opdivo, which was approved by the FDA in 2014. Genesis joins a host of smaller companies, such as Oncosec, Advaxis, and Cytosorbents, which are developing immunotherapy drugs.
Yet another research-oriented company in the Genesis Biotech Group is the Institute of Biomarker Research, which invents diagnostic tools and lab tests.
And another company, Genesis Automation and Robotics invents and constructs automated equipment.
In addition to doing its own research, Genesis does Contract Research Organization work on behalf of other companies. For about two years, Genesis Drug Discovery and Development has been breeding humanized mice — lab mice that have been genetically modified to have human immune systems.
This feature is important for testing drugs: traditional lab mice can only be given mouse cancers. With human immune systems, the mice can be given human cancer, and therefore serve as more accurate test subjects for figuring out which drugs might be effective in humans. “Those human cancers inside the mouse are not going to be rejected, because they have a human immune system,” Mordechai said.
Where Genesis hasn’t developed its own capabilities, it has acquired them through mergers and acquisitions. For example, Genesis owns a stake in a Philadelphia company called NexusPharma together with Fox Chase Cancer Center. Nexus specializes in creating cancer models. It also acquired an ocular research firm, PharmOptima, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to create disease models for ocular diseases.
Its most recent acquisition was of New England Discovery Partners, a Connecticut-based Contract Research Organization specializing in synthetic, organic and medicinal chemistry.
So far nothing has been made public about the results of Genesis’ drug development projects. Mordechai says only that some of the ideas gleaned from old books and scientific papers have proven fruitful. He says one drug candidate is nearly ready for early clinical trials.
All of this research is expensive, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year. Mordechai declined to give an exact figure, and he’s not obligated to, since Genesis Biotechnology Group remains a privately owned company. Genesis has found a unique way to fund its research that does not involve outside investors.
“In order to fund the research, it’s a very significant effort, with the institutes and the number of scientists that we employ to carry out these operations in this research,” says Michael Gale, vice president of acquisitions and business development. “What we’ve done is we’ve created a model in house that started about 10 years ago, where we invested in income-producing properties.”
Genesis Investment Properties (GIP), the company’s real estate arm, owns around 100 properties, mainly in the Eastern part of the country and the Midwest. These include retail, medical, educational, and industrial buildings.
Moradi, Mordechai’s brother, at one point managed the real estate aspect of the business, but Mordechai says he retired about four years ago. Gale now leads this arm of the business.
Mordechai says self-funding through real estate has several advantages. “In order to sustain the ongoing research, there are three ways to get funding: to get an outside funding from investment groups — we didn’t want that.” (Outside investment would have come with outside influence.)
“The other one is from the government, which is very difficult to get. Coming from academia and being trained in writing with NIH grants, we know how laborious it is. You spend the majority of your time if not all your time, being, as I call it, a slave to your application. You just go from one application to another with no guarantees.” The third was to seek private investment, and that also came with significant drawbacks.
“We decided the other way is to create a an economical conduit for our research,” Mordechai says. “The only way to do that is to take some of, if not all, of the profits that we got from the clinical lab that we run and reinvest it in creating that portfolio to sustain a financial conduit to our research … Every time we buy a new asset or a new CVS or drugstore or a manufacturing facility, the proceeds are going toward our research.”
The first property Genesis bought was a dollar store in Maryland, followed by a tractor supply store in Ohio, both of which they still own.
GIP commercial properties house many mom-and-pop retail shops, “main street” storefronts, small business offices, and local manufacturers. However, recently, Genesis has focused on properties that are what Mordechai calls “Amazon-resistant” businesses. The portfolio includes office buildings, manufacturing, schools, and hospitality.
Its hospitality portfolio includes some well known Princeton-area businesses such as the Chez Alice Patisserie. It also owns the Peacock Inn, the Washington Crossing Inn, the Yardley Inn, and the Princeton Pi pizzeria.
Genesis Hospitality also has its own commercial bakery facility in Hamilton. The Bakery Division is poised for growth. There are plans to expand its retail shops to 20 locations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Manhattan over the next few years.
The portfolio also includes residential real estate. The company constructed a 44-unit apartment development on Cabot Drive in Hamilton called Genesis Village. “Genesis Village provides housing options for employees, visiting doctors, our sales staff, unrelated residents, etc., directly adjacent to our Genesis Biotechnology Campus and near to our corporate headquarters,” Gale says.
A key figure in creating this biotech empire was Martin Adelson, the company’s COO, whom Mordechai met when they were studying together in graduate school. Adelson, who also has a doctorate in molecular biology and cancer research, has used his scientific expertise to continually upgrade the technology used in MDL’s clinical lab.
His contributions include the introduction of acoustic dispensation technology to move liquids from one vial to another. This allows the lab to work with samples much smaller than would be possible with traditional mechanical droppers. This in turn lets them process more samples at a time in their machines — 368 versus 19 — and work more quickly and efficiently.
Genesis’ business strategy includes some degree of vertical integration. As with any testing company, one of the major parts of MDL’s supply chain is lab equipment. Rather than buy specialized supplies such as plastic vials at inflated prices, MDL invested in its own machine to make them.
Once they had this operation running, they were making more vials than they could use themselves, so they spun it out into its own company that now occupies a 70,000-square-foot facility in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Bioplast Manufacturing has become one of the largest manufacturers of Petri dishes in the United States following its 2015 acquisition of Kord-Valmark.
Mordechai says it’s all for a greater purpose.
“All of this business activity is for the ultimate goal of pushing research forward for the benefit of patient care and enhancing the lives and longevity of individuals. It’s a mission shared by every single person in our corporate family. In the hiring process at every level, we look for people who care and aim to do their best. Our most prized assets are the people of Genesis who work as a family to serve and help your family,” Mordechai wrote in an e-mail.
“I don’t have an exit strategy,” Mordechai says. “My exit strategy is, how can I better a patient’s life, either through new innovations in discovery and biomarkers, or through our drug discovery programs.”
There is also a personal reason that Mordechai has invested in bladder cancer research. “I saw my dad going through cancer,” he says. “It’s affected me, seeing the unmet medical needs that are out there. The moment he got sick with cancer, that’s where we shifted a lot of our research.”
Medical Diagnostics Laboratories LLC/Genesis Biotechnology Group, 2430 Kuser Road, Hamilton 08690. 609-570-1000. Eli Mordechai, CEO. www.mdlab.com.