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Patrick Springer, Published January 09 2013

Biomedical firm stakes out Fargo as R&D home

FARGO – SEKRIS Biomedical, a California firm, plans to move its research and development operations here in what is touted as another step toward the area’s goal of becoming a biotechnology hub.

Shahrokh Shabahang, president of SEKRIS, said Fargo emerged as an obvious location to develop a drug it devised to regulate the body’s immune system to reverse Type I diabetes.

SEKRIS already has ties to two companies based in Fargo, Aldevron and PRACS, and wants to collaborate with researchers at Sanford Health and North Dakota State University.

“We really like the atmosphere there,” Shabahang said. “It seems like there is a great environment there for biotechnology and especially vaccines.”

Plans call for SEKRIS to move its research and development operations – including top executives and scientists – to Fargo during the first half of this year, although details still are pending, Shabahang said.

SEKRIS has worked with Aldevron, which provides custom DNA materials for research labs and biotechnology firms, and James Carlson, co-founder and chief executive of PRACS, has served on SEKRIS’ board of directors for several years.

Both firms have offered to provide space. Proximity to Aldevron is especially handy to ensure tight integration between research and manufacturing, Shabahang said.

“We have really developed a close tie with Fargo,” he added.

SEKRIS, which was founded in 2009 (its first patent dates back to 2006), focuses on treating inflammatory diseases, including treatment for Type 1 diabetes, caused when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

“The biotech activity is really crystalizing,” said Michael Chambers, co-founder and chief executive of Aldevron. He noted the recent announcement that a Boston area research firm, CureLab Oncology, is planning a move to the Fargo area to pursue its cancer treatment research.

“It’s just a very positive circle,” because the different firms and research programs complement one another, Chambers said. “It’s exciting that a cure for diabetes or cancer might come out of Fargo.”

Don Berg of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp. said SEKRIS’ planned move is a sign that the area’s biotech niche is strengthening.

“I think it really will be a boost for our life science initiative,” Berg said, adding that his office will work with SEKRIS on a financing package.

Although the firm’s initial presence will be modest, involving four or five positions, those are well-paying, Berg said. “Actually, four or five jobs right away for a company like this is significant.”

If clinical trials, which SEKRIS hopes to start in two years, yield promising results, the company could grow significantly, Berg said.

“Then you start hiring 10 people here, five people there,” he said, adding, “It might take a while to get there.”

Curing diabetes is one of Sanford Research’s top priorities.

“Sanford Health and Sanford Research are very pleased that SEKRIS is exploring the opportunity to move its research operations to Fargo,” said Dr. Gene Hoyme, president of Sanford Research.

“We are committed to improving the care our patients receive and would welcome the opportunity to continue to explore how we might promote collaborations that would benefit our patients and the people in our region,” Hoyme added.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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