USD Discovery District: The road ahead for biotech companies, development

June 14, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.

The timing couldn’t have been much better.

As the world’s leaders in the biotech industry gathered for their annual conference, South Dakota announced that two homegrown bioscience companies — SAB Biotherapeutics and Alumend —  would become the first businesses in the new USD Discovery District. 

A day later, Gov. Dennis Daugaard was given a lifetime award for his support of the industry.

Ryan Hansen, president of Alumend; Eddie and Christine Hamilton, co-owners of SAB Biotherapeutics; and Rich Naser, president of the USD Discovery District

“There was definitely a lot of talk about what’s happening in South Dakota,” said Joni Johnson, executive director of South Dakota Biotech. “Our momentum is showing the bioscience industry that you can move here, find talent here, be supported here and ultimately succeed here.”

Eddie Sullivan has been one of the early believers.

His company came to South Dakota more than 15 years ago, and now SAB Biotherapeutics will occupy 41,000 square feet in the first Discovery District building with its corporate headquarters, research labs and initial commercialization space. It’s also planning to use a second 42,000-square-foot building as it advances commercialization.

The commitment puts the Discovery District “significantly ahead of schedule,” president Rich Naser said, estimating it represents about 10 percent of the square footage ultimately planned there.

We asked Sullivan to share what’s next for his company in preparation for the expansion.

How significant is this move to the Discovery District?

When we talk about raising the bioscience industry in South Dakota, these are the kinds of things people pay attention to. They can see there’s absolutely a rising tide in South Dakota. We are now bringing in folks from the coasts, and they see the science and infrastructure and quality and the regulatory benefits of being here. All those things are starting to be recognized as very, very valuable and very possible in a place like South Dakota.

For SAB, when we are talking with future partners on specific products – that includes even big pharma – we have to show the capability to manufacture these products. They market them. That’s the business model SAB is about, and no one will take you seriously until they can see the capability you have. That’s exactly what we’re working toward with the Discovery District announcement and showing we can build these facilities in South Dakota.

Your first product planned for commercialization is an influenza product. How exactly will that work?

Often, people think we are competing with the flu vaccine. That is not the case. You still need to get the flu vaccine because if you get flu it usually is less severe and if people stop getting the vaccine we will go back to the serious problems we have with influenza before.

But it’s generally recognized the vaccine is not 100 percent effective. Flu is a very dangerous virus, and 35,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. alone die from it every year. So our product is to treat severe, hospitalized influenza. What we hope is that by giving these human antibodies from animals we have hyper-immunized with flu vaccine, we are giving patients more of what their bodies are naturally trying to produce to combat the disease and overcome influenza.

What has to happen before you can produce that?

We have to test for safety in healthy people first. We’re planning to start that clinical trial in the next six months. That sets us up for the phase two trial, where we have to show efficacy, by the beginning of the 2019-2020 flu season.

How else can SAB apply this same platform technology?

We have four areas we work in: infectious diseases, oncology, autoimmune diseases and inflammation. Those are the areas of focus where we think our platform technology will have a great deal of value.

SAB has estimated its workforce could reach several hundred. How confident are you that workers will be available to fill those jobs?

That’s one thing I find amazing about South Dakota. If we need expertise that doesn’t exist here, once we get people here for interviews and they see what this community is about, we don’t have a problem recruiting. And this community has a supply of well-trained people to work in this field. When we have those programs at the schools, we have to provide jobs so they want to stay in the community and help develop this industry. We are too often still exporting many of our very talented people.

Here’s a look at what’s next for the USD Discovery District

Design, construction

To keep the Discovery District on track to open its first building in 2020, more infrastructure will need to be built. That includes streets, utilities, parking and streetscape.

Design for the buildings also will have to be finalized.

Sioux Falls-based Architecture Incorporated and architecture leader Perkins+Will have been selected as the architects for the building. Tetrad Property Group, an experienced research park developer, will manage the project for the Discovery District.

More leasing

There is about 20,000 square feet left to lease in the first building.

“The big thing is we have something to market, which we didn’t have before,” Naser said. “Now, we can say in less than 24 months, we have a place for you. It makes those discussions much more real.”

The development through the governor’s office is working with several biotech prospects that would take space in the first building, he said, and other prospects are interested in additional buildings.

Other developers will be able to help bring in nonresearch uses, Naser said.

“We want to make sure we launch the park with our main focus, which is innovation. We don’t want to start with live and play, but that will be added.”

Educational offerings

The connection to higher education is critical for the Discovery District, which is adjacent to University Center.

USD at University Center has added certificate programs in laboratory science and regulatory affairs as well as an associate degree in integrated sciences in addition its growing biomedical engineering program.

“All those are things that will benefit these companies that are already looking here and help us attract others,” Naser said. “The No. 1 thing is workforce.”

To learn more about the Discovery District, click here.

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USD Discovery District: The road ahead for biotech companies, development

“There’s absolutely a rising tide in South Dakota.” We look at the road ahead for bioscience and the USD Discovery District following last week’s big announcement.

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