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Rochester seeks to become biotech destination

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The passage of Destination Medical Center should help convince promising young biotechnology companies to locate in Rochester, said backers of the burgeoning industry.

Mayo Clinic Ventures now can tell startup business developers that there's governmental backing and that Rochester "is a good place to start your business, and we're going to do what we can to make it successful," said Mayo Clinic Ventures Chairman Jim Rogers III.

Inside the Minnesota Bioscience Center near the Mayo Clinic campus, Mayo Clinic Ventures sifts through the many biotech-company ideas offered by Mayo researchers and front-line workers, looking for potential commercial successes and helping bring them to the market.

"Many times, we are trying to convince people that are not local that they should stay here," Rogers said.

With a business environment close to Mayo Clinic and UMR, a skilled workforce, development already happening, more development to come, and a strong work ethic in a city that maintains a small-town atmosphere, Rogers said, attracting outside companies will be a little bit easier with DMC.

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"I'm sold on Rochester," he said. "But I think it's really going to help people coming from another environment outside Rochester."

Rogers said the city's new accelerator, with about 10 startups, four venture-capital groups and biotech industry powerhouse Boston Scientific has potential to instigate a biotech firestorm in Rochester.

"At some point the spark will take — and it'll be off and running," he said. Students pursuing master's degrees in business administration will spend summers at the accelerator, helping start-ups get off the ground with front-line business advice.

Revenue from intellectual property agreements signed by Mayo Clinic Ventures gets put back into the Mayo financial pipeline to help support patient care, education and research.

A growth in biotech ideas and businesses could make Rochester a mecca for high-tech professionals and the biotech companies they want to start.

Often, the make-or-break part of biotech rests squarely upon whether a city can provide two things: Venture capital and skilled labor able to turn a great idea into one that's also marketable.

For several years, the city of Rochester has been trying to find ways to ignite a firestorm of business development by creating an environment conducive to helping small biotech start-ups.

Dr. Virend Somers , who specializes in physiological monitoring, sleep disturbances and their effect on heart disease, serves as but one example.

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His team helped develop technology for a remote-monitoring system called BodyGuardian Remote Monitoring System that received FDA approval and has led to maker Preventice employing 50 people in Rochester.

The device monitors ECG, heart-rate variability, heart-rate reliability, activity and respiration. The Body Guardian is described online by Preventice as "a cutting edge approach to patient monitoring that includes a non-intrusive, wearable body sensor that allows physicians to monitor a patient's physiological data from anywhere at anytime."

Algorithms for the device were developed at Mayo and licensed by Mayo Ventures to Preventice.

Somers said such idea-to-product successes, mixed with passage of Destination Medical Center support from the Minnesota Legislature, will raise the profile of Rochester and draw expertise and outside interest to Minnesota.

"Just yesterday we had a group of people come from New York and Chicago and Nashville," Somers said in May.

The early-stage development of Preventice is the type of success Mayo and the city are working toward, hoping many such companies will pop up in the city, diversifying its employment base.

Once the city becomes capable of guiding companies seamlessly from the bright-idea stage all the way to manufacturing, Rochester biotech advocates believe they will have succeeded.

Companies like Preventice will help push the city toward that goal, Rogers said.

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That doesn't mean it will be easy.

"It's a lot of work," Rogers said. "Economic development is really challenging — and there's a lot of people doing it."

Related Topics: MAYO CLINIC
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