15 Aug Minneapolis company sets sights on southern Wisconsin
MINNEAPOLIS – Southern Wisconsin’s biotech infrastructure has prompted a Minnesota company to consider crossing state lines to develop an operating facility that could employ approximately 200 people.
Excorp Medical Inc., is looking to the southern tier of Wisconsin to manufacture systems used to treat human liver failure, said company president and CEO Dan Miller. It’s a product that company representatives say has the potential to serve a huge, international market.
Excorp, founded in 1995, currently employs five people, with Miller expecting an increase to 25 people by year’s end. The new facility, by contrast, would hire about 200 people when it is completed in two years.
Miller put the probability of coming to Wisconsin at 90 percent, with the remaining question being which community the manufacturing facility would be located in. The company would likely maintain offices in Minneapolis, where it earlier this year moved to new facilities in the University Research Park biosciences zone.
Excorp is working on a product called a bio-artificial liver, a bioreactor cartridge containing about 100 grams of liver cells from specially bred pigs, which would be used for patients suffering from acute liver failure. The bioreactor would detoxify the patient’s blood in place of his or her own liver until a transplant could be found or the liver was able to regenerate.
The product is currently going through human trials and could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in three years, the company reports. It estimates that the American market for the system would be about 700,000 cases per year, with revenue of $7 billion. Comparable market conditions exist in Europe, Miller said. Excorp also is working to market the product in China, where liver failure due to hepatitis and other ailments is a major cause of death.
The company earlier this year announced intentions to establish a Chinese operation to serve the Asian market.
“This is going to be an international product, there’s no doubt,” said Bill Bearndt of Riverwood Group, a corporate consulting firm working with Excorp. to help it set up shop in Wisconsin. “This is new to the market; nobody else is available, nobody else is in clinical trials, and it’s a life-saving procedure. Everybody, once it becomes available, will want it.”
The firm has been in contact with government officials at both the state and local level, including Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Mary Burke, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, to discuss potential sites, though Miller said it is too early to make a review of the prospects. A final decision could come this fall.
“There are 46,000 deaths in the U.S. annually from liver failure, and there are only about 5,500 transplants because of a shortage of organs,” said Aaron Olver, a top aide in the state Department of Commerce. “It’ll be a company that can really help put Wisconsin on the map.”
Olver said the state has been discussing possible grants and other financial incentives to help the company locate in the state, and also credited increased tax incentives to technology businesses and what he described as an overall good environment for them under Gov. Jim Doyle.
While both Wisconsin and Minnesota have strong medical sectors, the differences in the two states’ focuses have been a decisive factor, according to Miller. While Minnesota is strong in medical devices, the biotechnology strengths of Wisconsin’s medical sector were not to be discounted.
“The fact that there are several hundred biotech companies in the southern Wisconsin tier means that there is a lot of infrastructure, that there are a lot of people who already understand what biotech is all about and how to make it go,” Miller explained.
While the placement of the Excorp facility might be a battle between neighboring states and among communities, Bearndt said the emphasis should be on supporting Midwest technology. “We can show the world, we can show the coasts, that our intellectual property here in the Midwest can be commercialized in the Midwest,” he said.