MISSOULA – Officials from a new biotech company, Inimmune Corporation, met with Gov. Steve Bullock Nov. 1 to discuss how the University of Montana connects researchers and entrepreneurs and the potential impacts for the state’s economy. The meeting was held at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center (MonTEC), UM’s business and technology incubator.
“Universities play a key role to play in the development of new technology and bringing it to the marketplace,” said Scott Whittenburg, vice president for research and creative scholarship at UM, which is positioned to surpass last year’s unprecedented record of $87 million in external research funding.
The Inimmune biotech firm emerged from a unique partnership with UM. In February 2015, GSK Vaccines announced consolidation of its research and development operations, resulting in the closure of its research operations in Hamilton later that year. Having worked together for more than 15 years and not wanting to leave Montana, the research team needed to find the necessary laboratory space and infrastructure capable of supporting a large multidisciplinary research program.
Enter UM. Seeing the potential connections between the University’s research mission and its available resources for technology transfer and entrepreneurship, officials began exploring possibilities with the research team. The team forged a strong public/private partnership, resulting in the transfer of over $20 million in National Institutes of Health research contracts and equipment to UM.
“Inimmune is uniquely positioned to expand into a growing immunotherapy sector by harnessing the immune system to treat diseases with a high unmet medical need” said Jay Evans, president and CEO of Inimmune. The company is focused on the discovery and development of new therapeutics for treatment of allergy, autoimmunity, upper respiratory tract infections and cancer.
Earlier this year, 15 of the employees from the GSK-Hamilton research team were hired at UM, including five new faculty members. Between Inimmune and the University, the team has expanded to 22 employees and will grow to 25 by the end of the year.
There are many benefits to come from this new partnership. Among them, UM has proposed a new Center for Translational Medicine, with this highly experienced team of researchers at the core, which will assist UM faculty in translating research ideas from the laboratory to practical applications. Evans will direct the new center and seek to expand opportunities for biotechnology partnerships at UM and prepare students for careers in the biotech industry. Evans said this collaboration was what sparked the creation of Inimmune.
After meeting with officials, the governor toured the Inimmune laboratories and discussed plans for creating additional research facilities on the UM campus.
“As Montana’s economy grows and diversifies, getting research breakthroughs to market quickly propels new innovations, new businesses and more technical, high-paying jobs for Montana,” Bullock said.