Nsight Barbara Nelsen on the business of science.

Filed under biotech companies, Minnesota Biotech, Biomedical, Business growth, Innovation, Biotech funding, Minnesota funding, Venture capital, Life science

Building a Biotech Hotbed in the Cold North

The View From The Cabin (Barbara’s)

Okay, @gdombal I will concede that Boston is the center of the universe for biopharma/biotech (for now), though I maintain Minnesota still retains its dominance in all things medtech and med device. However, the past five years have shown rapid growth of new and compelling companies in the Minnesota biotech/pharma scene.  These new companies are built on competencies and strengths unique to Minnesota’s scientific, medical and industry expertise and are financed through strategic partnerships and strategic investors. In this brief article we shine the spotlight on four Minnesota-based companies that are moving the needle in the life science industry.


With Tammy Lee taking the helm in 2017, St. Paul gene-editing firm Recombinetics is making giant strides in both healthcare and agriculture. Recombinetics recently raised $34 million in Series A funding. The company uses its platform technology to address specific market needs through their three subsidiaries:

  • Surrogen uses gene-editing techniques to model human diseases in swine (which are genetically similar to humans) to provide animal models for preclinical research of drugs and devices that more accurately predict human safety and efficacy signals.
  • Agriculture-focused Acceligen develops precision breeding technologies to improve disease resistance, animal welfare, and sustainability for Ag livestock.
  • Regenevida focuses on regenerative medicine by developing swine-based scaffold solutions for generating human cells and tissues. There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S.Is this the company that will finally solve this shortage by generating organs for transplantation with a patient’s own stem cells?


Uncommon solutions generate compelling clinical results.  In 2013 Dr. Stephen Russel, Director of Medical Medicine at Mayo Clinic, treated Stacy Erhotlz for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer she had battled since 2004. The treatment was based on a modified measles virus. Five years later she remains cancer free. With Erholtz as his living “proof of concept,” Russell spun out Vyriad to develop oncolytic virus based cancer therapeutics. The company raised $10 million last year to support their pipeline and clinical trials and more recently $9 million to set up a 25,000-square-foot facility.

Vyriad recently announced a partnership with Merck KGaA and Pfizer to test a combination therapy of Vyriad’s Voyager-V1 oncolytic virus and avelumab in metastatic colorectal cancer. Voyager-V1 uses a vesicular stomatitis virus platform to target and kill cancer cells directly. It also activates the patient’s immune system to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Vyriad has ongoing phase I clinical trials against several other cancers including solid tumors, blood cancers, squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, and medulloblastoma.

Pairnomix (Now Q-State)

Pairnomix puts the personal into medicine. Using the Pairnomix platform, genetic variants affecting CNS function are identified in patients with rare and untreated or undertreated CNS disorders. Existing FDA-approved drugs are tested for their ability to normalize the disrupted function and patient’s physicians are provided with this critical information to help develop a clinical management strategy. The results can be significant and immediate. CEO Matt Fox says the biggest innovation here is in the business model. There is no 20-year drug development plan (and financing) required.

On Nov 29ththe company merged with Cambridge MA-based Q-State Biosciences.Fox will continue as CEO of the newly merged business, and use the synergistic strengths of these two companies to accelerate providingsolutions for those affected by rare CNS disease.

ApoGen Biotechnologies

We featured Apogen in a previous edition of MN Life Science Companies to Watch. The company continues to advance its drug development activities directed at inhibiting genomic mutations that lead to drug resistance in cancer. ApoGen recently expanded its Series A financing to $11 million and added a new investor, M Ventures: the strategic, corporate venture arm of Merck KGaA. M Ventures was joined in the Series A expansion by ApoGen’s existing investor group. This includes AbbVie Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH, Eli Lilly, J&J Innovation (JJDC Inc.), Watson Fund, WRF Capital and WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund. The company recently opened its headquarters and laboratory facilities in Seattle and expanded its leadership team.

Come Visit the Bold North

At this year’s The Great State of BioPharma conference in Minnesota we heard from many CEOs who have successfully navigated the challenge of funding and growing biotech and biopharma companies in Minnesota, a land of 10,000 lakes but limited venture capital dollars. These companies have novel technology platforms, address unmet market needs, and use novel business models. We invite our investor friends from the coasts to come visit the Bold North. We’ve got more percolating than just hot coffee.