November 6, 2019

Rochester Biotech Firm Strikes ‘Significant’ Deal with Drug Maker

Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Regeneron is partnering with Vyriad, a Rochester startup based on science developed at the Mayo Clinic, the companies announced Thursday. Vyriad is developing viruses that can target and attack cancer cells, while Regeneron, which reported $6.7 billion in 2018 revenue, is a leader in cancer immunotherapy.

According to a press release, the companies are partnering on a Phase 2 clinical study to evaluate how their respective therapies perform in tandem on various types of cancer, while also launching a five-year research effort to develop more advanced virus-based cancer treatments.

The terms of the deal, which include cash and equity investments by Regeneron, were not disclosed, but it will be enough for Vyriad to double the size of its team with 20 to 25 additional hires in Rochester, Vyriad President and CEO Dr. Stephen Russell said. Vyriad will expand its current headquarters location in Rochester’s former IBM office campus, now known as the Rochester Technology Campus, including lab and manufacturing space.

“It’s a really great step forward for us,” Russell said in an interview. “It allows us to proceed in exactly the way we want to proceed, but it also gives us quite a significant amount of cash to be able to do all the other things we want to do with the company, building our technology 1/2 pipeline and building our manufacturing capabilities.”

The partnership offers a chance to build on the strengths of Voyager-V1, Vyriad’s treatment, and Lbtayo, Regeneron’s therapy, said Dr. Israel Lowy, senior vice president at Regeneron.

“We are eager to explore the combination of Voyager-V1 and Libtayo in patients with different tumor types in the short term, and see long-term promising synergies with our existing areas of strength, particularly in antibody development and viral vector technologies,” he said in a press release.

The expansion of Vyriad, founded from the merger of two other startups in 2015, could also be good news for the broader Rochester startup community, said Russell. Although Rochester is drawing numerous biotech companies to be part of the rapidly growing Destination Medical Center initiative, his company has found venture capital funders are still skeptical about the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“I look around at the other companies in Rochester, I think this sort of puts us ahead of the game to have a really very strong deal with a major player in the biotech industry,” he said, adding that this deal could open the door wider for the next company seeking venture backing. “Every step is going to help to float all boats.”

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