Another spoke in the bio-tech hub developing in Hamilton
Dr. Seth Lederman, CEO of Tonix, a pharmaceutical production company that is building a production facility in Hamilton, was given a Bitterroot welcome last week at a greeting ceremony sponsored by the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA). RCEDA Director Julie Foster gathered up representatives of all the key partners that have participated in making this move by Tonix possible for a question and answer session about the new development.
Tonix is an eleven-year-old vaccine research and development company that currently employs 30 people at its facility in Massachusetts, but according to Lederman, the operation is growing rapidly and they expect to be hiring an additional 40 employees by next November. They also plan on hiring some employees for the planned facility in Hamilton almost immediately and ramp it up as time goes by. Work on the Hamilton production facility itself has been waiting on the finalization of the City of Hamilton’s agreement to extend water and sewer to the facility which is located in the county just south of the RCEDA building on Old Corvallis Road. The land was sold to the company by the Bitterroot Stock Farm and sits in a relatively newly established Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD) that allows for tax increment financing for infrastructure development.
Lederman explained that Tonix was a vaccine production company that has developed a novel production platform for making vaccines in general. Right now, he said, they are really focused on production of Covid-19 related vaccines, but the platform that they are using can be used in production of other vaccines as well for both infectious and non-infectious diseases.
“We are in it for the long term,” said Lederman. “and it is not just about Covid. Even after the pandemic, we expect Covid to become endemic, meaning this is going to be around in humanity probably as long as humanity is on earth.” He also said “this won’t be the last pandemic or the last virus that we need to address. This is not the time to become complacent. It’s a time to charge ahead.”
Lederman said that whether it was Covid or the next pandemic or some other infection, the platform they are establishing can be used in the production of the needed vaccines. He said the comp0any was attracted to the Bitterroot by the existence of the world-renowned Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a part of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Just down the road in the other direction, he said, is Glaxo-Smith Kline a production for the adjuvant used in making most vaccines. He said it was probably the only place in the country that they could find such an advantageous place to build a vaccine production facility. He said it was an incredible opportunity for collaboration.
“If miracles exist,” said RML Associate Director Dr. Marshall Bloom, “vaccines are certainly among them.” He said it was vaccines that helped address smallpox, polio, measles, chicken pox, hepatitis, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
“Vaccines have the potential to vanquish Covid-19 too,” said Bloom, “and the next serious pandemic is just around the corner.” He said outside of RML there were also other institutions such as the University of Montana with its own stable of research scientists and the Bitterroot College offers the opportunity for supplying well-trained staff.
Bloom said the Tonix platform is based on a replicating but harmless virus. He called it a novel and promising technology. He said, “A variety of platforms offers the best defense against a variety of viruses.” He said, “There are a number of investigators at RML interested in collaboration and opportunities abound.”
Hamilton Chief of Police Ryan Oster, who serves as Chairman of the Board of the RCEDA, said that the community has been working towards the success of this venture for about 20 years and accomplished what they have through intensive cooperation with other government agencies, and private citizens to a remarkable degree.
“We already have a great success story in GSK,” said Oster. He recalled how the company was talking about closing up shop in Hamilton and how the town and the county, ala RCEDA, got together to provide water and sewer service and the company stayed on. He said it goes to show how investment in infrastructure can pay off.
County Commissioner Greg Chilcott agreed, stating “infrastructure is always a problem.” He praised RCEDA Executive Director Julie Foster for recognizing years ago the importance of getting a Targeted Economic Development District in place to attract businesses.
“It’s a long-term investment for taxpayers,” said Chilcott. “It’s expensive, but it pays off in the long term with money and jobs.” And, he added, “It couldn’t have happened without the City of Hamilton going along.”
Hamilton Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf said the City was eager to participate, collaborate and cooperate with the county and the private sector as well as the Bitterroot College to make this kind of responsible growth happen the Bitterroot. He said the whole development has been done with great care and deliberation to ensure it is the right kind of development.
Lederman said that the pandemic has disclosed both the strengths and the weaknesses in the United States’ preparedness to face such things.
“I am proud to be a leader, not just in addressing Covid-19, but in addressing pandemics generally,” he said. “I am delighted to be here.” He said following the installation of the water and sewer services this fall, the company hoped to break ground on the new building by next summer.