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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Vyriad to build $9 million facility on former IBM site

Vyriad to build $9 million facility on former IBM site

One of Rochester's most promising biotech companies announced Thursday it has signed a contract to build a $9 million state-of-the-art facility on the former IBM site, now known as the Rochester Technology Campus.

Vyriad, a Mayo Clinic spinoff that is developing genetically-engineered viruses for the treatment of various forms of cancer, will use 25,000 square feet of space on the site for offices, research and the production of the company's clinical-stage oncolytic virus therapies. 

Dr. Stephen Russell, president and CEO of Vyriad, said the new facility will allow the  company to more rapidly advance its "multi-pronged assault on cancer." The space is expected to be operational by the end of 2018.

"With the custom buildout of this facility, Vyriad is taking a giant leap forward in delivering our novel oncolytic virus therapies to patients," said Dr. Russell.

The buildout follows a $9 million round of financing by the company that included investment from Mayo Clinic, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. and the Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund.

Additionally, the state of Minnesota and city of Rochester have committed $379,000 in funding to push the project forward. As part of the expansion, Vyriad says it plans to create between 20-30 new jobs in the coming years.

The firm, which also raised $10 million in 2017 to fund ongoing clinical trials, is currently housed in multiple locations across the city, including the Minnesota BioBusiness Center. The new facility, Vyriad says, will allow the company to consolidate its employees in one location while still maintaining close proximity to Mayo Clinic, which it licenses technology from. 

"We greatly appreciate the strong support we have received from Mayo Clinic and at the local and state levels, and we look forward to continuing to work with Mayo Clinic in our mission to deliver important new therapies to patients as well as drive local bioinnovation and economic development in Rochester and Minnesota for years to come," said Dr. Russell, also the co-founder of Imanis Life Sciences, which will share some of the space.

As we explained in a special report last year, Vyriad is working to develop cancer therapies that use engineered viruses to destroy tumor cells while simultaneously boosting the immune response against the cancer. In doing so, the body can continue targeting and killing cancer cells while preserving the healthy cells — allowing for a course of care that is more efficient, less painful and potentially more affordable than existing treatment options.

Though the therapies may be years away from widespread use in clinical settings, early results from one engineered virus in particular, the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), appear promising. The virus, known to infect cattle in central America, grows rapidly in tumor cells but not in healthy normal cells — making it a potent force in the fight against cancer.

“When it works, it’s basically activating the body’s immune system against the cancer,” Dr. Shruthi Naik, one of the company's co-founders, told us. “What we hope is that we can form an immunotherapy here that would work in a wider spectrum of patients. The ability of the virus to actually infect, replicate and kill cancer cells, and stimulate a much more robust immune response in that area gives it an edge over current cancer immunotherapies.”

Cover photo courtesy Mayo Clinic

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