Human vaccine could be the future at MinnWest Technology Campus

WILLMAR -- Vaccine developed in Willmar to prevent salmonella and E. coli in livestock could provide "breakthrough bacterial vaccine technology" for humans.

WILLMAR -- Vaccine developed in Willmar to prevent salmonella and E. coli in livestock could provide "breakthrough bacterial vaccine technology" for humans.

To make the leap of putting a human vaccine on the market, however, it could cost $300 million.

A little help from state and federal lawmakers to secure bioscience funding could give that venture a leg up in the competitive medical in-dustry, ac-cording to Joe Shaw, the CEO of Syntiron LLC.

Syntiron is a spin-off of Willmar-based Epitopix, which is located on the Minn-West Technology Campus.

Researchers at Syntiron, which is currently based at the University Enterprise Laboratory in St. Paul, are using the Epitopix technology to develop human vaccines that would prevent bacterial diseases that are becoming resistant to antibiotics.


The vaccines could be used for salmonella, which kills 3 million people each year worldwide; MRSA, which kills 19,000 Americans; and E. coli, which sends 2,100 Americans to the hospital each year. It could also be used to combat bioterrorism attacks, which is why Shaw said he's currently talking with military leaders about the use of the new Willmar-based vaccine technology.

With the proper financial support, which could include partnering with a large pharmaceutical company as well as government funding, a human vaccine production facility could eventually be built on the Willmar campus.

That, said Shaw, would put Willmar and Minnesota on a new medical map.

Shaw made the comments Friday to the House Emerging Technology Committee and the Senate Business Industry and Jobs Committee as part of a three-hour tour at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

Chairman of the House committee, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said his committee supports providing bioscience grants to companies like Syntiron and Epitopix, but said there may not be a lot of state money available to provide growing bioscience companies the money they need.

Last year the state was considering $30 million in bioscience funding, but by the time negotiations were completed with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mahoney said only $1.37 million was approved.

The Legislature is already looking at $40 million in "wants and needs" for bioscience funding for the 2008 session. Early word is that Pawlenty may consider allocating $10 million "or less," Mahoney said.

He said if additional money is needed, constituents need to "convince the other legislators and the corner office" at the Capitol to approve more.


Shaw said legislators could also help MinnWest by helping to "raise the profile" of the campus by letting people know that "this kind of facility is here" and that this "truly unique" type of "total species protection" vaccine technology is being developed here.

Shaw, who said he didn't know where Willmar was before he accepted the job with Syntiron earlier this year, said most people think of cornfields when they hear the name Willmar. Now he's helping the fledgling business grow.

The legislators also heard about other businesses located on the MinnWest Technology Campus and witnessed the renovations of the facilities. The private owners of MinnWest Technology Campus are investing at least $1 million in each building, which were originally built to provide mental health programs in Minnesota.

Jim Sieben, president of Nova-Tech, one of the owners of MinnWest, said they hope to recruit 15 to 20 new technology businesses for the campus. They hope to develop a science building that would be equipped with specialized equipment that could be used by a variety of technology businesses on the campus.

That, combined with an exercise room, gym, shared dining facility that's now in operation and a future day-care facility, will provide an atmosphere that MinnWest owners hope will attract scientists from bigger cities to move to Willmar.

Dr. Bill Sheehan, a psychiatrist from Willmar, also spoke briefly to legislators about research he's involved with for new technology to diagnose and treat individuals with traumatic brain injury and how that treatment could be used to help soldiers returning from war.

Funding for a new veterans facility is being sought for Willmar. If additional funding is approved, the facility could also include the innovative treatment Sheehan is involved with.

The state-of-the-art facility and new treatment would help Americans pay the "debt" owed to soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injury, Sheehan said. Without adequate treatment, he said, those veterans could end up homeless or in prison.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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