Biovest to Hire “Hundreds” in MN for Cancer Vaccine

The state and the City of Coon Rapids have both provided loans to the company, which is working toward commercializing a first-of-its-kind treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

A cancer-fighting vaccine being developed in Minnesota is likely to add “hundreds” of jobs within the state, although it's unclear how soon that growth will occur.

Tampa, Florida-based Biovest International, Inc., is increasing efforts to develop BiovaxID-an immunotherapy that will treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, company President Samuel Duffey told Twin Cities Business on Wednesday. To that end, the public company is renovating its 35,000-square-foot Coon Rapids manufacturing facility and adding staff, both of which will position it to market the vaccine after it receives approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The requirements to meet the commercial demand of patients once the drug is approved will be quite substantial,” Duffey said. Although he wouldn't specify how many jobs Biovest plans to add within the state, Mark Phillips-commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development-said Wednesday that the company committed to adding 14 jobs within the next two years to its current 25-person local work force, adding that that initial round of hiring is just the beginning.

The state gave Biovest's undertaking a vote of confidence by providing a $250,000 loan through the Minnesota Investment Fund, and the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority agreed to kick in a $100,000 loan-both as part of a $1.5 million public-private financing partnership that includes the Minnesota building's owner, according to Phillips.

“We're hoping that over time, the investment in this could create hundreds of jobs,” Phillips said in a Wednesday phone interview. The “highly skilled, highly paid” jobs that Biovest plans to add have an average projected annual salary of $65,000 and include bio-manufacturing professionals, production managers, quality control and quality assurance experts, engineers, and technical personnel.

BiovaxID is unique in that it's a personalized treatment. The vaccine is made by extracting cancerous cells from a sample of each patient's tumor and using them to create a custom injection. It stimulates a patient's own immune system to recognize and destroy specific cancerous cells that can remain in the body or arise after chemotherapy. BiovaxID kills only malignant cells and spares healthy cells and tissue.

According to Biovest-which emerged from bankruptcy in November thanks to a $7 million loan from institutional investors-clinical trials showed that disease-free survival among patients injected with the vaccine improved by 47 percent over patients only using current standard regimens, including chemotherapy.

Duffey said that the vaccine is “close” to FDA approval, although he wouldn't reveal a specific timeframe when he expects that to occur.

Duffey said that there are several reasons why it makes sense to develop BiovaxID in Minnesota. The obvious one is that the company already has a facility within the state. At it, Biovest manufactures protein-based therapeutic products on a contract basis; a line of bioreactor instruments for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and research organizations-including universities and cancer institutes; and BiovaxID.

But Duffey said that he's also pleased with Minnesota's business climate and the local talent in the biotech arena-and both he and Phillips see the just-announced state and local investments in Biovest as a win-win.

Phillips said that while the state is already quite strong in the biosciences, it's a sector that also offers a great deal of new opportunity-and supporting Biovest is one step toward realizing that opportunity.

“Cancer vaccines and personalized medicine are clearly on the cutting edge,” Duffey said. “Locating those ongoing operations in Minnesota is really a big coup for the state.”