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Published December 15, 2012, 11:35 PM

Fargo firm to manufacture cancer vaccines

Aldevron selected after worldwide search for best lab, researcher says
FARGO – Aldevron, a biotech firm based here, will produce DNA-based vaccines to treat cancer for CureLab Oncology, a Boston-area research company that plans to move most of its operations to the area.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – Aldevron, a biotech firm based here, will produce DNA-based vaccines to treat cancer for CureLab Oncology, a Boston-area research company that plans to move most of its operations to the area.

In animal studies, the vaccine has demonstrated strong responses in suppressing lung and breast cancers, in both primary tumors and spreading tumors.

Alex Schneider, a biomedical researcher and CureLab’s chief executive officer, said Aldevron was selected after a worldwide search to find the best lab to produce the vaccines.

“It turned out that Aldevron is by far the best company in the world to develop these products,” he said.

Unlike the biotech havens near Boston and the San Francisco Bay, Aldevron has shown that it can be done in a place like Fargo without the presence of elite universities, Schneider said.

“These are the people who have shown the establishment that an alternative way is the right way,” he said.

Although CureLab will keep a lab and office in Canton, Mass., it plans to move most of its operations to North Dakota, possibly Fargo or Grand Forks, where it also is collaborating with Avianax, a biotech firm located at the University of North Dakota.

“We already have put our foot on the soil,” Schneider said, referring to the production partnership with Aldevron.

“We are planning to open a branch,” starting sometime in 2013, Schneider said.

“We are planning to bring in a few people,” he added, although he went on to say that the main goal would be to hire local college and university graduates.

“We want to come and create smart jobs,” Schneider said.

The addition of CureLab to the area will help Fargo-Moorhead in its ongoing efforts to establish the area as a hub for the growing vaccine and biotech sectors, said Michael Chambers, Aldevron’s chief executive.

“CureLab Oncology’s presence in North Dakota would add a significant amount of expertise to the growing regional vaccine sector,” Chambers said. “Also, CureLab Oncology will help us attract even more talented scientists to the area.”

Aldevron, which does custom DNA work for research labs in the U.S. and around the world, is planning to spend about $5 million to renovate the former Woodrow Wilson High School for its headquarters.

Once complete, the building would allow Aldevron, which currently has a staff of about 50 in Fargo, to accommodate up to 200 employees, Chambers said.

“I fully expect to reach and exceed this number,” he said. “Many of these positions will likely be responsible for the production of cancer vaccines.”

Fargo has the potential to join cities like Boston as a biotechnology and vaccine center, said Schneider, an immigrant from Russia.

“I would say Fargo could become a true partner for places like Boston or New York for those who seek cancer treatment,” he said.

CureLab Oncology is a subsidiary of CureLab, which was founded in 2002 and is working on vaccines to combat influenza.

Originally planning to branch out by developing a vaccine for the AIDS virus, Schneider decided instead to focus on cancer vaccines.

Schneider’s goal, in collaboration with partners including Aldevron and Avianax, is to develop “a very comprehensive family of cancer treatments.”

In another development, Altravax, a biotech firm with offices in Fargo and Sunnyvale, Calif., announced that it has been awarded two research grants worth a combined $3.45 million.

The grants are from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for research on antibody-producing vaccines for the AIDS virus.

Altravax, with headquarters in Fargo and laboratories in California, uses “molecular breeding” technology to develop vaccines.

“We are pleased that the NIH has recognized the value of our technology in the search for an HIV vaccine,” Robert Whalen, chief scientific officer for Altravax.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522