Greater MSP competing to land $100 million for biotech business cluster

Minnesota is well-known nationally for its health care and medical technology industries, but local lab space for new biotech companies is in short supply.

University Enterprise Laboratories (UEL), a St. Paul nonprofit, aims to provide space for such startups, but with 60 other companies currently using its large facility, there’s no more room.

This quandary motivated Greater MSP, the Twin Cities’ regional development organization, to pitch an ambitious vision for what it is calling the Bold North BioInnovation Cluster. A key component of this proposal includes a UEL lab space expansion.

Greater MSP is competing for $100 million in federal money that would serve as the project’s startup capital. Organizations across the U.S. are competing for a total of $1 billion in funds under the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” led by U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

In mid-December, Greater MSP was named as one of 60 finalists across the U.S., beating out 469 other proposals to make it to the short list. Second-phase proposals are due March 15. The EDA will select 20 to 30 winners in September, which will be awarded funds ranging from $25 million to $100 million.

Peter Frosch, CEO of Greater MSP, said the federal money is just part of the equation and would be joined by much larger private investments.

“The opportunity is much bigger. It’s millions of dollars over five years to catalyze billions of dollars over a generation,” Frosch said. “That’s the opportunity.”

MSP’s concept calls for focusing on two bio sectors: health and agriculture.

“We made it to this list because we had a really good story to tell,” said Amanda Taylor, Greater MSP’s vice president of research and intelligence. “They’re saying, ‘You’ve proven that you have something competitive here.'”

More than 50 organizations are supporting of the project, including large corporations like Cargill, Ecolab, Medtronic, Land O’Lakes and General Mills, as well as other notable institutions like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota Foundation.

With inclusion and diversity in job and economic growth at the fore, the Center for Economic Inclusion, Summit OIC and Pillsbury United Communities are also coalition partners.

In late 2020, Fairview Health Services announced it was closing St. Joseph’s hospital in downtown St. Paul. While part of the property is being converted to a community wellness center, Greater MSP’s pitch suggests transforming part of the former hospital into a bio-focused innovation hub.

“We are short now on space, certain lab space, for bio-based companies,” Frosch said. “That’s a reality today. We need more of that space today. If we had it in ’21 and ’22 we would be filling it. That is not speculative.”

For UEL, the federal grant could mean another 12 to 18 lab spaces in its current building, which is a converted Target warehouse.

“We are currently full. We have essentially more companies needing the dry lab space and wet lab space than we can accommodate, even with the expansion that we just opened two to three years ago,” said Diane


3 Biotech Stocks That Could Make You Richer

If you’re looking for biotech stocks that can grow in value over the long term, you shouldn’t necessarily pick this year’s top-performing biotech player. In fact, some of 2021’s laggards could present far better opportunities.

What are the important points to consider? Commercialized products and the strength of the pipeline can tell us a lot about where a biotech company is going — and whether you want to go along for the ride. These three stocks have underperformed the S&P 500 this year, but better times are likely ahead for them. That’s because they’re winning when it comes to the products they already have on the market, and look poised to keep winning with those treatments still in their pipelines.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) is known for its leading cystic fibrosis treatments, which generate billions of dollars in revenue and profit for it annually. But this biotech powerhouse is making game-changing progress in treating other conditions. And if all goes smoothly, today’s investors will reap the rewards in the long term.

I’m thinking of two programs in particular. One is Vertex’s gene-editing candidate for blood disorders. The company has reported positive follow-up data from a phase 1/2 clinical study in 22 patients. Success here could be big. That’s because its therapy might be approved as a one-time treatment for transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia and severe sickle cell disease. The company says it may be ready to file for regulatory approval in 18 to 24 months.

Data regarding Vertex’s stem-cell-derived candidate for the treatment of type 1 diabetes also are encouraging. The first patient in its phase 1/2 clinical trial showed restoration of insulin production. Considering the limited treatment options for type 1 diabetes, this program, too, could be major for Vertex. Of course, we’re still talking about early data here. Investors and would-be investors will want to watch how these treatments’ clinical studies unfold. 

2. Exelixis

Exelixis (NASDAQ:EXEL) focuses on oncology treatments. But here’s what makes the company stand out: It has thrown its energy behind a single development program that has almost countless commercialization opportunities. Exelixis brought cabozantinib to market for the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, and metastatic medullary thyroid cancer.

But it isn’t stopping there. It’s investigating cabozantinib’s effectiveness against about 15 types of cancers. And eight of those studies are in phase 3. This is promising for the revenue picture ahead.

Meanwhile, its commercialized cabozantinib products are driving revenue higher. Lead product Cabometyx’s revenue climbed by 59% in the most recent quarter. The Food and Drug Administration earlier this year approved the combination of Cabometyx with Bristol Myers Squibb‘s blockbuster Opdivo as a preferred treatment for renal cell carcinoma. That offered (and should continue to offer) the drug a significant boost.

Exelixis is profitable and revenue is on the rise. I’m optimistic the company can keep that trend going given the possibility that cabozantinib will be approved for more and more indications in the