ROCHESTER — An Iowa entrepreneur known for his work in agriculture recently invested $29.5 million in a growing Med City biotech company.
The investment by Stine Seed Farms, Inc.led by the billionaire Harry Stinejoins Series B round of funding for
Vyriad, founded in 2016 by Mayo Clinic researchers Dr. Kah-Whye Peng and Dr. Stephen Russell, uses viruses, such as measles and others, to attack cancerous tumors. The two-step process causes the clinical-stage oncolytic virus to damage the tumor and then “wake up” a patient’s immune system to finish destroying the cancer.
This latest round of funding brings Vyriad’s tally, as of 2015, to more than $100 million. Mayo Clinic, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund, Based in South Korea Active Miraeand “several high net worth individuals” have all invested in the business.
While the link between seeds for crops and the use of viruses to fight cancer might not seem obvious, Russell said there are parallels.
“During my initial discussions with Mr. Stine, I was amazed to learn that Vyriad’s approach to developing safe, effective and cancer-targeting oncolytic viruses closely mirrors the Stine Seed model of screening, selection and high-throughput commercialization of new strains of soybeans and corn,” he said in the announcement. “He (Stine) is a very savvy biotech investor.”
This round of investment will help Vyriad expand its work in identifying and customizing the best viral platforms to treat a wide range of cancers.
Vyriad already has a measles virus platform which has completed its phase two clinical trials in collaboration with Regeneron. The company is also in the early stages of working with an infectious RNA platform. However, Russell said he wants to broaden the search.
“We can’t just be a one-trick pony,” he said. “We want to be the best virus breeding company in the world.”
Vyriad and its sister company, Imanis Life Scienceshave seen strong growth since their launch with a few employees in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator.
Vyriad/Imanis now occupy 40,000 square feet of laboratory space on the Rochester Technology Campus, the former IBM campus, at 3605 US Highway 52 North. There were 20 people on the team when they moved there in 2020.
Russell said they now have 70 employees on staff.
“We will develop this, but not at a breakneck pace. We need more virus engineering scientists and more people in manufacturing operations and in administration,” he said. “However, if you look at the funding in the biotech world right now, it’s not pretty. We want to spend our money prudently. We are very happy to be in this strong and optimistic position.
Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in “Heard on the Street.” Send tips to
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