RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Back in the mid-1980s, molecular toxicologist John Rundell, Ph.D., recognized a need for standardized materials that could be used in genetic toxicology tests.

That led him to found MOLTOX, a biotech manufacturing company, first based in Maryland and later relocated to the North Carolina mountain community of Boone, with the aim of doing just that.


Fast forward to today: The family-run business is still going strong – and even expanding. It manufactures products used in mutagenicity tests, which identify substances that can cause genetic alterations. It also boasts distributors across the globe, most recently signing a second distributor in India and the United States.

Additionally, in early 2021, it purchased PetroLabs, a Pennsylvania-based mutagenicity testing and consulting service for the petroleum industry.

“We reached a revenue milestone in 2021,” MOLTOX’s president Kristen Rundell told the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

This has all been achieved, she added, despite experiencing widespread challenges tied to the pandemic, including a disrupted supply chain, intermittent exposure of team members, and “frustrating issues with shipping and logistics.”

MOLTOX founder John Rundell, Ph.D.  (MOLTOX photo)

“We’re in the process of refining and developing our distributor network to ensure that we have the best possible partners in place globally,” she said.

Kristen is Rundell’s daughter-in-law. She took over the helm last October. Prior to this, his daughter, Heather Cameron, managed the company for 25 years. Rundell remains the CEO, but “keeps an eye on things from a distance,” said Kristen.

MOLTOX’s products, she said, aim to provide a standardized line for use in the Ames assay, a widely used test developed by Bruce N. Ames in the 1970s. It uses bacteria to test whether a given chemical can cause mutations in the DNA of the test organism.

Among MOLTOX’s offerings: minimal glucose agar plates, top agars, Salmonella and E. coli strainers, frozen and lyophilized S9, NADPH-regenerating systems and positive control chemicals.

“These products are used primarily by pharmacology and research laboratories as they determine, for example, whether a drug is suitable for clinical trials, or whether a material is safe for use by the cosmetics industry,” Kristen said.

Furthermore, having standardized materials allows researchers to better “support and compare” the information being shared within the scientific community.

In addition, MOLTOX manufactures a variety of industrial microbiology products for research purposes. Examples include Petri plates that grow various bacteria and fungi, tubes of broth that support the growth of certain microorganisms, and various reagents that can be used to maintain a constant pH or dilute other substances, Kristen explained.

“It may surprise a lot of people to learn that we have this amazing biotech company based in Boone,” said Jonathan Snover, Ph.D., executive director of the NCBiotech Western Office. “The fact is, we have a variety of life sciences companies throughout the state, because of the extraordinary quality of life North Carolina offers from the mountains to the coast. And Boone is not only a vacation mecca, it’s also the home of Appalachian State University, which is a rich source of talent.”

Kristen Rundell (MOLTOX photo)

Today, MOLTOX operates out of its headquarters based in Boone Industrial Park and has a team of 15 employees, including a newly hired customer service member. It’s a close-knit team, with a majority of its members working at the company for 10 years or longer. At present, despite its surging growth, Kristen said there are no plans to hire, but that could soon change with “a few retirements on the horizon.”

In the meantime, the company is winning accolades. In 2021, Rundell received the Alexander Hollaender Award from the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) for his contributions to the field of environmental mutagenicity.

Looking ahead, Kristen said she remains optimistic.

“There has been a significant increase in demand for our products that continues post pandemic. Year-to-date tracking indicates that this will continue.”

(C) N.C. Biotech Center