Mayo Clinic Biotech Spin-Off Vyriad Raising $9M for Expansion, Clinical Trials
Mayo Clinic spin-off company Vyriad Inc., maker of genetically-engineered viruses designed to destroy cancer tumors, is raising $9 million to fund an expansion at the former IBM building in Rochester where it plans to hire and house up to 30 new employees.
Vyriad CEO Dr. Stephen Russell, who is also director of Mayo Clinic’s molecular medicine program, announced last year the start-up had signed a lease for 25,000 square feet of lab space, offices and other uses in a vacant building on the city’s IBM campus as it sought to ramp up its pipeline of oncolytic virus products.
Since then, Vyriad has received a $270,000 loan from the Minnesota Investment Fund, a program administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development which supplies financial help to expanding companies by offsetting their capital equipment costs. In return, the recipients promise to create high-paying jobs.
This month Vyriad also landed a $109,000 loan from the Rochester Economic Development Fund, which is derived from municipal sales tax revenues and controlled by the Rochester City Council.
In making the case for Vyriad’s new loan at the council’s March 19 meeting, city staffers said discussions with company officials and local economic development consultants had revealed the start-up is in the process of raising $9 million to fund not only its new headquarters build-out, but also to pay for upcoming clinical trials of its oncolytic virus therapies.
They reported the headquarters project was expected to start in the first quarter of this year and be completed by the fourth quarter.
Also, as part of the expansion, the city revealed Vyriad is seeking to hire between 20 and 30 new workers within two years, each of whom would be paid between $70,000 and $200,000 annually.
Vyriad is operating in a potentially lucrative emerging market space with few established players. The company bioengineers anti-cancer viruses, most often derived from animal bugs such as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which affects livestock animals but is generally harmless for humans.
Because human immune systems don’t attack it as a threat, a large dose of VSV is free to reach tumor cells en masse, there delivering a genetic payload causing those cells to self-destruct. Meanwhile, even the closest non-infected cells are spared from harm, which means viral oncology could be an improvement over the now-dominant forms of chemotherapy in that regard.
The virus is genetically altered by adding two genes. The first gene is a human interferon beta gene, which is a natural anti-viral protein. This protects the normal, healthy cells from being infected, while still allowing the virus to work against cancer cells.
The second gene makes the NIS protein found in the thyroid gland, which allows the researchers to track the virus as it spreads to tumor sites.
Vryiad boasts a pipeline of seven oncolytic virotherapies in various stages of early clinical and pre-clinical development. The company last year announced the first use of one of its bioengineered viruses against solid cancer tumors in a Phase I clinical trial at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls.