Molecular Level

Chemist Kimberly Lupo launches Portrett Pharmaceuticals


Childhood Christmas presents for KIMBERLY LUPO were microscopes and chemistry sets fueling her never-waning interest in math and science. Lupo is the founder and CEO of recently opened Portrett Pharmaceuticals, a custom contract testing laboratory specializing in testing small-molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients. These ingredients are compounds with low molecular weight capable of modulating biochemical processes to diagnose, treat or prevent disease.

Lupo is well-qualified to run her new lab. A graduate of the University of North Carolina Pembroke with a degree in chemistry, she also holds a master’s degree in chemistry from University of North Carolina Charlotte and an MBA from East Carolina University.

Lupo started her 15-year career in the pharmaceutical industry in Greenville, North Carolina as an entry-level chemist at Metrics Inc. (now Mayne Pharma), a company that manufactured and performed FDA-required testing of solid oral dose capsules and tablets.

At Metrics, Lupo learned the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry.

“Playing a part in getting drugs to market has been really exciting for me,” Lupo says. “I’ve been involved with a handful of drugs that have positively impacted many people’s lives. And that’s very satisfying.”

Lupo progressed through the ranks at Metrics culminating as a senior group leader, managing a team of sixteen chemists.

“I really enjoy developing people, helping them reach goals, pushing them farther than they thought they could go,” she says.

Last summer, Lupo and her husband Chris moved to Wilmington to be closer to family and the beach. She worked as a laboratory manager at Quality Chemical Laboratories with responsibilities similar to her leadership role at Metrics.

But ever since undergraduate school, Lupo dreamed of managing her own lab. As her career progressed, she saw clients who were dissatisfied with the service and the quality of their active ingredient testing labs. She says, “I wanted to fill the gap for those pharma companies that were not able to source a good quality lab.”

Portrett Pharmaceuticals opened in September 2021 and is the newest tenant at UNCW MARBIONC which leases space to researchers, private firms, and government agencies for the development of next-generation biotechnology products and solutions.

“There is nothing else like these labs in North Carolina. We were able to move in our instruments and get right to work,” Lupo says. “That is unheard of. I would not have been able to realize this dream this soon if it weren’t for MARBIONC.”

JOSH AHEARN is the chemist at Portrett Pharmaceuticals performing most of the testing and AMY BARNES is responsible for quality assurance for the lab’s clients which include drug discovery pharmaceutical companies, virtual pharmaceutical companies and generic pharmaceutical companies. The team delivers quality testing with a unique customer service experience. Lupo says, “The company name is a play on words. Portrett is the Italian word for characterization. We are characterizing small molecules.” The company slogan is “painting a complete picture,” exactly what Portrett Pharmaceuticals aims to do for the pharmaceutical industry.

Lupo’s dreams don’t stop here. “I anticipate having twenty-five employees and an established presence in the industry within one to three years.”

Longer-term, Lupo envisions a 500-employee round-the-clock facility to perform synthesis (start to finish manufacturing) and testing of active ingredients for shipment to pharmaceutical companies that will make drug products. She smiles, “I think it will get crazy quickly, but it will be good!”

Lupo applauds Wilmington as a great ecosystem for entrepreneurs. “I have a counselor through Small Business and Technology Development Center and a mentor team through UNCW Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Both are unprecedented resources for startups.”

Her best advice for others embarking on business ventures is to find people with similar interests. Lupo concludes, “Establish your mentor team. And read. Read all you can get your hands on.”

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to

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Categories: Women to Watch