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Who are the Montana Biotechnology Innovators?

Meet Some Key Researchers in Montana Biotechnology – and Learn What Makes Them Great Tenants 

As Montana’s biotechnology industry moved forward, demand for specialized commercial space heated up. Tonix Pharmaceuticals acquired 43 acres in Hamilton, Montana for a vaccine production facility. In Bozeman, NanoValent Pharmaceuticals raised millions in their pursuit of novel cancer research.
 
In Missoula, a business incubator on the Clark Fork River houses some of the state’s cutting edge biotech companies. Inimune, FYR Diagnostics, and Montana BioAgriculture tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. Things like combating disease and creating hearty, stress-tolerant food sources.
 
Montana BioAgriculture

Montana BioAgriculture president Cliff Bradley worked for years to transform an idea from concept to commercialization. Bradley’s team recognized that over 20% of human calories come from wheat. They developed tools to decrease stress in these plants and boost their ability to fight disease. That means heartier crops, says Bradley, that can “reduce…losses from drought, insects and diseases.”

Dr. Cliff Bradley
Photo Source Montana BioAgriculture
 
There’s good news here for beer drinkers, too. A recent grant from the US Department of Agriculture bolsters the research, allowing the Montana BioAgriculture team to integrate barley into their scope of work. They expanded in 2019, doubling their lab space in preparation for the work ahead.
 
“These spaces are custom and attract extremely loyal, long-term tenants.”
FYR Diagnostics
And just down the hall from Montana BioAgriculture, FYR Diagnostics fields COVID-19 tests. That reduces wait times for results. In turn, that allows for faster decision making between healthcare providers and their patients. FYR developed the test itself in 2020 to support state testing needs.
 
“Even with the roll-out of vaccines, the need for fast, accurate, high-volume COVID-19 testing will continue for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Sarj Patel. Patel is President of FYR. “We are committed to helping our community.” FYR landed a space in MonTEC in early 2019. Since then, FYR tripled their staff. They also expanded twice into more office and laboratory space.
 
While commercial build out of laboratory space brings a hefty price tag, demand is high. FYR is just one of several biotech companies raising millions in private venture capital. Especially after the events of the past year, confidence in biotech continues to make a meteoric rise.
 
Commercial Lab Space at a Premium 

“Air handling, especially chemical fume hood exhaust, is a key consideration for our biotechnology clients,” says Jessica Morina. Morina

jessica morina, commercial property manager
Jessica Morina
Sterling Commercial Management

manages the MonTEC property as part of her work with Sterling Commercial Management Group. “Building out safe, secure spaces with the right environment means thinking through client needs holistically.”

 
These leases are more technical than a typical commercial lease, says Morina. But, they have clear benefits for the property owner. “What are the requirements for equipment placement? We consider the storage of sensitive materials, waste disposal, and deionized water, as well as the need for air compressors, power backups, and even specialized flooring and countertops that are chemical resistant. While these spaces are custom, they also attract extremely loyal, long-term tenants.”
 
Inimmune 
One of MonTEC’s current long-term tenants, Inimmune, recently announced the largest Series A investment in Montana. The $22 million cash propelled COVID-19 research. In turn, helping to land the University of Montana (MonTEC partner) on a short list of universities making the biggest impact in solving the Coronavirus pandemic.
 
Inimmune plans to start clinical trials in 2022, with human testing moving the company into a new stage of growth. On their website, Inimmune characterizes the company as “fast-moving” and ready to change the landscape of their field.
 
With funding flowing into the Montana biotechnology sector, some industrial owners eye conversion of existing spaces. In Missoula, with limited inventory of commercial spaces suitable for laboratory use, MonTEC fills a critical need.
 
Biotechnology on the Rise
Brigitta Miranda-Freer, director of MonTEC operations, carefully tracks the interest in Montana biotechnology. “It speaks to the value the funding body saw in putting some money behind things that are already occurring organically in the state of Montana,” she said of a recent grant to MonTEC.
 
“We have a waitlist for folks seeking space here at MonTEC,” says Morina. “If we had more lab space come on the market in Missoula, it would have a strong tenant base right off the bat. These Montana companies are well-poised for growth and a sustainable future.”