Missoula biotech firm meets with governor, university officials in research gathering

Jaynine Ward, a research scientist with Inimmune, works in a company lab at the Montana Technology Enterprise Center. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Missoula Current

Leaders of an upstart biotech company in Missoula met Tuesday with Gov. Steve Bullock to discuss how the University of Montana connects researchers and entrepreneurs, and the potential impacts to the state’s economy.

Inimmune, which conducts research at both the Montana Technology Enterprise Center and the UM campus, has emerged as one of several promising new biotech firms based in Missoula, each looking to make global impact.

“Universities play a key role in the development of new technology and bringing it to the marketplace,” said Scott Whittenburg, vice president for research and creative scholarship at UM.

Just two years ago, the team of senior researchers were operating in Hamilton under the banner of GSK Vaccines (formerly owned by Corixa and Ribi ImmunoChem). That came to an end when GSK consolidated its R&D operations into three global facilities.

Having worked together for more than 15 years and not wanting to leave Montana, the research team needed laboratory space and infrastructure capable of supporting a large multidisciplinary research program.

They found that at UM, where school officials began exploring opportunities with the Inimmune research team. A partnership was formed, resulting in the transfer of more than $20 million in National Institutes of Health research contracts and equipment to UM.

“Inimmune is uniquely positioned to expand into a growing immunotherapy sector by harnessing the immune system to treat diseases with a high unmet medical need” said Jay Evans, president and CEO of Inimmune.

Earlier this year, Evens explained how the company’s focus lies in the discovery and development of new therapeutics for treatment of allergy, autoimmunity, upper respiratory tract infections and cancer.

UM has proposed a new Center for Translational Medicine with the Inimmune’s researchers at the core. The new center will assist UM faculty in translating research ideas from the laboratory to practical applications.

Evans will direct the new center and seek to expand opportunities for biotechnology partnerships at UM, while preparing students for careers in the biotech industry.

“As Montana’s economy grows and diversifies, getting research breakthroughs to market quickly propels new innovations, new businesses and more technical, high-paying jobs for Montana,” Bullock said.