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Rochester's Vyriad lands a new $29.5 million round of investment

Stine Seed Farms Inc., led by Iowa billionaire Harry Stine, recently invested $29.5 million in Vyriad Inc. Vyriad, which uses viruses to attack cancer tumors, is based on the Rochester Technology Campus at 3605 U.S. Highway 52 North.

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Dr. Kah-Whye Peng and Dr. Stephen Russell of Vyriad.
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ROCHESTER — An Iowa entrepreneur known for his work in agriculture recently invested $29.5 million in a growing Med City biotechnology firm.

The investment by Stine Seed Farms Inc., led by billionaire Harry Stine, adds to Series B round of funding for Vyriad Inc.

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Vyriad, founded in 2016 by Mayo Clinic researchers Dr. Kah-Whye Peng and Dr. Stephen Russell, uses viruses, such as measles and others, to attack cancer tumors. The two-stage process has the clinical-stage oncolytic virus damage the tumor and then "wake up" a patient’s immune system to finish destroying the cancer.

This latest round of funding brings Vyriad’s tally, starting in 2015, to more than $100 million. Mayo Clinic, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. , Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund, South Korea-based Mirae Asset, and “several high-net-worth individuals” have all invested in the company.

While the connection between seeds for crops and using viruses to combat cancer might not seem obvious, Russell said there are parallels.

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“In my initial discussions with Mr. Stine, I was amazed to learn that Vyriad’s approach for developing safe, effective, cancer-targeted oncolytic viruses closely mirrors the Stine Seed model of high throughput screening, selection and commercialization of novel soybean and corn strains,” he stated in the announcement. “He (Stine) is a very savvy biotech investor.”

This round of investment will help Vyriad expand its work in identifying and customizing the best virus platforms to treat a wide range of cancers.

Vyriad already has a measles virus platform that has completed its phase two clinical testing in conjunction with Regeneron. The firm is also at an earlier stage of working with an infectious RNA platform. However, Russell said they want to expand the search.

“We can’t just be a one trick pony,” he said. “We want to be the world’s best company for selecting viruses.”

Vyriad and its sister company, Imanis Life Sciences, have seen a lot of growth since they launched with a couple employees in the Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator.

Vyriad/Imanis now occupy 40,000-square-feet of lab space on the Rochester Technology Campus , the former IBM campus, at 3605 U.S. Highway 52 North. There were 20 people on the team when they moved there in 2020.

Russell said they now have 70 employees on staff.

“We will grow that, but not at a breakneck pace. We need more virus engineering scientists and more people in the manufacturing operation and in administration,” he said. “However, if you look at financing in the biotech world right now, it’s not pretty. We want to spend our money prudently. We’re very happy to be in this strong, optimistic position.”

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Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in "Heard on the Street." Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.

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Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Jeff at 507-285-7798 or jkiger@postbulletin.com.
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