Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Stephanie Nickelson

Stephanie Nickelson is a Clinical Support/Diagnostic Liaison for Benchmark Biolabs who has been in the animal health industry for 16 years and human health for one. She has been with Benchmark for 16 years. Stephanie has had the opportunity to be involved in many aspects of the company, and currently her role is to support clinical projects for all clients, from processing to testing samples to shipping.

  • Personal Info:
    • B.S in Biology and B.A. in Chemistry from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln
    • Originally from Papillion, NE where her mother (a real estate agent) and father (retired from the USPS) still live.
    • Has one younger brother who graduated Creighton Medical School and is currently doing his residency in Dallas.
    • Married to her husband Shane, an Architectural Drafter, for 7 years.
    • Has a 2 year old English Bulldog named Kali.
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • All sports, currently involved in bowling
    • Anything that involves going out or people watching

One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Stephanie: She was a scholarship soccer player on UNL’s inaugural Varsity team. There she was 4 year starter, letter winner and first team all Big 12 selection.

Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Tom Eberle

Tom Eberle is a supervisor in Virus Production with 30 years in the industry and one and a half years at Benchmark Biolabs. His current responsibilities see him working in the production of virus for autogenous vaccines.

  • Personal Info:
    • Degree in biology from Marquette University
    • Graduate studies in microbiology at UMKC
    • Married with three children
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Golfing… badly

One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Tom: During graduate school he sold beer at Royals Stadium for two years, including Royals first World Series in 1980 against the Phillies. Beer was outrageously priced then as well, $1.25 per bottle. Parking cost $2.

Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is an assistant scientist who has been in the industry and with Benchmark for two years. She is part of the Laboratory Services department where she works primarily on Research and Development of various projects. She is also the Hazardous Materials Officer in the Safety Committee.

  • Personal Info:
    • Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri by her two sets of parents and along with two older sisters
    • Received Bachelors of Science and a minor in Chemistry, with honors, at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri
    • Attended graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Recently married in June of 2016
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Reading, cooking, drawing, music, spending time with friends and family, and video games.

One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Michelle: She plays the violin, and has been playing since the 5th grade.

Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Becky Koelling

Becky S. Koelling is an associate scientist that has been in the industry for 12 years, 9 of which have been here at Benchmark. Currently she is working with client (CRO) and internal product development and licensing, identity and potency assay development and validation, transition of new products and assays to Manufacturing and QC, and support for Clinical department.

  • Personal Info:
    • B.S. in Animal Science from University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Ancient Civilizations, International culture and people, photography, hunting, fishing, camping, riding horses, playing guitar, reading, gardening, cooking, and medicinal plants.

One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Becky: She has worked in setting off professional fireworks displays.

Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Dustin Petrik

Dustin T. Petrik, PhD is a manager in research and development that has been in the industry for 8 years, 4 of which have been here at Benchmark. Currently he is Principal Investigator for client (CRO) and internal product development and licensing, identity and potency assay development and validation, transition of new products and assays to Manufacturing and QC, and support for the Clinical department.


  • Personal Info:
    • B.S. in Microbiology from Kansas State University
    • Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from University of Iowa
    • NIH Research Fellowship at Nebraska Center for Virology
    • Married with 2 children
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Anything that keeps the children entertained – primarily fishing, soccer, and watching college football.

One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Dustin: He worked in his first private research/manufacturing job at the age of 16 – assembly and quality control of cattle embryo collection filters for artificial insemination.

Bio Nebraska Spotlight: Mary Ann Pfannenstiel



Growth Is Happening Each Day at Benchmark Biolabs


Today our focus is on Mary Ann Pfannenstiel, vice president of laboratory services at Benchmark Biolabs, Inc. and that firm’s remarkable progress in Lincoln


Q:    Thank you for stepping into the Spotlight. Please tell us about your role at Benchmark Biolabs.


A:    I began working at Benchmark Biolabs within a month of its incorporation, which was 20 years ago. I have been responsible for laboratory services for internal projects, quality control and for services provided to clients for the past thirteen years. I am currently responsible for technical training and development.


Q:    Benchmark Biolabs has had an exciting year, with its merger and opening of a new manufacturing facility. What gets you excited about coming to work each day?


A:    Working at Benchmark Biolabs has always been exciting because of the diversity of projects that we work on. We have a wide range of clients, from large corporations to small start-up companies. We work with many types of viruses, bacteria and parasites, so there is always something new to learn. We have had the opportunity to work on the development and USDA licensure of several unique and novel products. In 20 years, there has never been a day where I have felt my work was tedious, and I always leave work wishing I could have accomplished more that day. Each day presents new challenges and the opportunity to overcome those challenges.


Q:    Our region is developing a strong ecosystem as a hotbed of vaccine development. Do you see our area as competitive with other regions?


A:    Our area is definitely competitive in vaccine development and manufacturing. One need only look at the number and competitiveness of large corporations and smaller businesses in the area. The quality of the workforce in our area has been an asset for all employers.


Q:    Your background includes academia, a large pharma corporation and then work in an emerging/growing biotechnology firm. What have you enjoyed about each stint?


A:    One of the most enjoyable factors in academia is the freedom to work on projects of your design and choosing. University schedules are flexible and the environment is often exciting with new students, new classes and new schedules each semester.


Working for a large-pharma corporation was interesting, because I was now applying the science I had learned in academia, and using a whole new set of operating parameters. Project management, timelines, budgets and numerous federal regulations were overlaid onto performing good science. Licensing a product under FDA for a large corporation requires a team effort, and the project has to be managed so that the numerous cogs of the machine work synchronously. There is a sense of pride when the studies are completed and approved by the FDA, and a product that offers benefits to the public is on the market.


I did not know what to expect when I began to work for a start-up company, whether the company would succeed and survive, or what my role would be. Working in a small company, you know that what you do each day has an impact on the success of the project and also the company. It has been a pleasure to be involved in the growth and success of Benchmark, and also to work with and train new employees.


Q:    As you look at agriculture, there is great pressure on producers to reduce antibiotic use in food animals. Does this create opportunities for immunizing animals and thus reducing potential harm from antibiotic resistance in microbes?


A:    Whenever antibiotic use is limited either through government regulations or the emergence of resistant microbes, changes are needed in agricultural practices. This may include animal husbandry and diet, but vaccination is also a key component in reducing the effects of the disease.


Q:    As you look ahead at your company, you have merged with a very capable animal-health distribution company. Do you see this as growing more jobs in the Lincoln area?


A:    The plan is to increase the number of employees in Lincoln, and we have begun the process with recent hires.


Q:    As a training resource within Benchmark Biolabs, what advice do you have for our education leaders who are working to create our state’s 21st Century workforce for companies such as yours?


A:    New employees should be well trained in theory and techniques, so laboratory classes that offer hands-on training are necessary. This should include training on proper documentation, calculations and reporting of results. One of the most beneficial courses I had was a two-credit course on scientific writing. This course also discussed the ethics of reporting results. Ethics is often overlooked in curriculums, but it is necessary that employees understand and follow ethical practices in order to maintain the integrity of the scientific method.


Q:    As a woman leader in science, do you feel that we are doing enough to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM careers?


A:    I am appreciative of the programs that are in place to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM careers, because they certainly did not exist when I was a student, or even when my daughters were students. These programs can offer great benefits. I have seen the results of STEM programs when attending the KC Animal Health Corridor Annual Meeting where high-school students attend sessions. Many students expressing an interest in science are young women. We need to continue to emphasize STEM careers in school for both girls and boys, because scientific careers are not the easiest courses to pursue, and students need the encouragement for a difficult undertaking.


Thank you Mary Ann. We wish you and Benchmark Biolabs well in the coming year.


Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Beth Duensing

Beth is a scientist with 7 years in the industry, and 3 months here at Benchmark. Currently Beth is working to optimize fermentation profiles and lyophilization cycles. She also scales processes from R&D volumes up to manufacturing volumes.

  • Personal Info:
    • Bachelors of Science in Biological Systems Engineering and Biochemistry
    • Masters of Science in Biological Systems Engineering
    • Married with two girls who keep her on her toes
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Spending time with family
    • Quilting
    • Gardening
    • Hiking
    • Reading
  • One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Beth: she played in the UNL marching band

Benchmark Monthly Featured Employee: Laura Trygstad

Laura TrygstadLaura is a scientist with 9 years in the industry, and 9 years being with Benchmark. Laura has been involved in wide array of projects spanning research, quality, regulatory and clinical aspects of the business. She has been heavily involved in the research and stability testing surrounding adjuvant products manufactured by VaxLiant, LLC and presented her work at the 2014 CRWAD Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL. She recently joined the Clinical Services group where she oversees the performance of all research and safety release testing in mice.

  • Personal Info:
    • Master’s degree Iowa State University in Genetics with minor in Criminal Justice
    • Married with two boys under 7 years of age
    • Grew up working on a hog farm in north central Iowa
  • Interests/Hobbies:
    • Like to golf, row on a rowing machine, and yoga
    • Listen to all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy audio books during my commutes to/from work
    • Sunday school teacher
  • One interesting fact, or something that people may be surprised to know about Laura: The town she grew up in was less than 200 people

Benchmark Biolabs and Antelope Valley Bios receive Manufacturer of the Year award


AgriLabs is pleased to announce that the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce honored both Benchmark Biolabs and Antelope Valley Bios as Manufacturer of the Year.

For details, please see the press release here.

Vaxliant Featured In Animal Pharm Article:

Double boost for VaxLiant vaccines with US approvals

By Joseph Harvey

Published: 11 March 2015 12:22 PM

On the same day it secured four US approvals for its vaccine adjuvants, US firm VaxLiant also saw its technology used in two new AgriLabs products.

The Lincoln, Nebraska-based firm received approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for four ready-to-use ENABL adjuvants that can be added to vaccines to help improve the resulting immune response in cattle and swine.

Two of the approved adjuvants are for use in cattle vaccines, while two are for use in swine vaccines.

The latest approval means VaxLiant has received USDA authorization for 10 adjuvants in the last year – six adjuvants were approved in July 2014.

The company said all of the adjuvants include a 21-day withdrawal period when ENABL is used in vaccines administered either subcutaneously or intramuscularly.

Steve Schram, one of VaxLiant’s co-founders, explained: “A 21-day withdrawal period, which is the shortest allowed by the USDA for food-animal vaccines, is especially important when developing vaccines for practical use in cattle and pigs.

“Beyond that, having access to innovative adjuvants that already are approved for safety means manufacturers can reference existing withdrawal studies that meet stringent USDA standards. This can reduce the development time needed to bring new vaccines to market.”

Tim Miller, also a VaxLiant co-founder, said: “Until recently, a key hurdle to using DNA, gene-vector and other next-generation technologies to develop vaccines has been access to adjuvants that are versatile enough to accommodate these unique platforms.

“Access to a variety of ENABL formulations has eliminated that hurdle by offering never-seen-before stability and strong immune response, while enabling new approaches for antigen recovery in product-release assays.”

AgriLabs launches ENABLed vaccines

VaxLiant is a virtual company formed as a joint venture between biologics development firm Benchmark Biolabs and animal health products distributor AgriLabs.

St Joseph, Missouri-based AgriLabs has launched two new autogenous vaccines made with VaxLiant’s ENABL adjuvant technology for beef and dairy cattle.

The vaccines, developed in partnership with Addison Biological Laboratory, are against Moraxella bovoculi andStreptococcus uberis mastitis.

Fayette, Missouri-based Addison Labs is the manufacturer of the licensed autogenous vaccines that contain ENABL, while AgriLabs is the exclusive distributor for these vaccines.

“This product expansion further strengthens a partnership with Addison Labs that has been a significant asset to the growth of I-Site XP, a broad protection vaccine against pinkeye,” said Brian Reardon, business unit manager for AgriLabs.

“By extending this partnership with Addison Labs, we are ensuring producers have more access to herd-specific vaccines as herd conditions change.”

M bovoculi – otherwise known as pinkeye and associated with Moraxella bovis – is an increasing problem amongst cattle. According to AgriLabs, there was previously no commercial vaccine against M bovoculi but now, a single dose of the I-Site XP vaccine protects cattle.

S uberis is the most common Streptococcal species isolated from mastitis case submissions in the UK, New Zealand and the US. It is described by AgriLabs as being “the greatest nemesis to economical milk production to all herds worldwide”.

The company said: “The vaccine production process for this organism is efficient and allows the use of autogenous vaccines as an effective tool in the battle against such a formidable and significant mastitis opponent as S uberis. All combination of Streptococcus can be included in the formulation as well as other causative autogenous bacteria. BovineE coli and Clostridium autogenous are also available.”

The adjuvants used in these two vaccines are part of the six-pronged USDA approval VaxLiant secured in July 2014.

Custom solutions

J Bruce Addison, president for Addison Labs, said: “Environmental conditions are constantly in flux giving rise to new diseases and organisms. When a farm encounters an organism that is unique or variant, veterinarians and producers are faced with a challenge of how to handle the situation. If a commercial vaccine is not available for the bacterium, an autogenous vaccine may be useful.”

VaxLiant’s versatile adjuvant technology aims to allow vaccine manufacturers to create products to treat specific disease outbreaks. The formulations used by VaxLiant are adaptable to various delivery methods, such as the transdermal, aerosol and oral routes.

After being established in 2013, VaxLiant has already recorded its first revenues.