Officials Say Fuji’s Purchase of Kalon Boosts Texas’s Biotech Profile

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Shaw Pittman, where he will lead life sciences commercialization efforts from his office in Houston.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: Tell me about the origins of the company and the reason why it was formed.

Andrew Strong: About 10 years ago, the A&M system wanted to start to build a life sciences initiative. We understood this would not be a huge discovery engine, as in drug discovery. That’s the expertise of other institutions. What A&M does very well is engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, veterinary medicine, agriculture. The commercialization of technology historically had been distributed among the various universities in the system. In the mid-2000s, this was combined under a central tech transfer office under the A&M system umbrella.

I came to the system in ’09. We decided to do biomanufacturing differently using flexible manufacturing facilities. That was a perfect fit for us, right in our sweet spot. The [Texas Emerging Technology Fund] provided a grant to the A&M system to build the next-gen biomanufacturing facilities, the mobile clean rooms that we now have.

We had a building that was under construction, no contracts, a great idea. Some would say, are you crazy, but we knew from our research and from talking to pharmaceutical businesses—major pharma was cutting R&D—that a critical facility for vaccines to therapeutics that had the ability to change from one project to next … was what we needed.

X: How did the deal with Fujifilm come together? Who came to whom? What sealed the deal?

A.S.: We defined success as, like you would with a mall or a shopping center, having anchor tenants that can help support the operation of the [facility]. If we can get one of the following three anchor tenants—a major academic medical center client, a federal contractor, or a major pharmaceutical company—that was success. The first thing we got was M.D Anderson as a major client in January of 2012 when we started working on myeloma vaccine. In June of 2012, A&M secured a contract with Barda, a $285 million contract and Kalon would be the prime subcontractor for the majority of the work along with GlaxoSmithKline. Several months later we were selected by GSK, as the U.S.-based development and commercialization partner for its next-gen cell-based influenza vaccine.

We had our three anchor tenants. I used to say it was like a dog chasing a bus. Well, the dog caught the bus–now we need to make … Next Page »

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