Richard Linton, president of Kansas State University, Jeff Wolf, founder of Heat Biologics, and Gov. Laura Kelly chat after announcement Monday of a $650 million, 500-job economic development project to bring Scorpion Biological Services’ commercial vaccination biomanufacturing facility to Manhattan. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
MANHATTAN — Heat Biologics founder Jeff Wolf considers construction of a $650 million, 500-employee commercial vaccine production plant in Manhattan focused on quick reaction to natural or man-made biological threats to be a U.S. national security imperative.
He said the 500,000-square-foot Scorpion Biological Services facility in proximity to Kansas State University, the Biosecurity Research Institute, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and the U.S. Army at Fort Riley represented a significant expansion of biopharmaceutical operations under the umbrella of Heat Biologics.
Manhattan and Kansas State beat out the other prominent bidder for the commercial plant — Iowa City and the University of Iowa.
“The COVID pandemic and recent geopolitical events highlight the urgent need for rapid response to potential biological threats,” Wolf said. “Today’s announcement is a major milestone, enhancing our domestic production of vital biologics to protect Americans from deadly disease.”
Gov. Laura Kelly said during the announcement program in Manhattan attended by about 250 people that Manhattan and Kansas was well-positioned to support Scorpion Biological’s strategy to broaden domestic production of cell- and gene-based medical countermeasures.
“Being in the center of the country with quick access to either coast, there is no better state for Scorpion to locate in order to address potential threats to public health,” the governor said.
Kelly, who has touted her record in office in terms of economic development, said the Scorpion Biological project was a “game-changing facility that will have a massive positive impact in our state.” Scorpion Biological is expected to cumulatively have a $1 billion impact on the Kansas economy.
Scorpion Biological, based in San Antonio, Texas, is expected to grow employment at the Manhattan facility to 500 within seven years. The jobs will have an average wage of $75,000. The manufacturing building will be located next to a business park on U.S. Highway 24 east of Manhattan on ground expected to be annexed into the city.
Scorpion Biological and Heat Biologics support drug development phases from conception, research, clinical trials and commercial production. The company recently added a smaller clinical-scale biologic manufacturing facility in San Antonio.
The Kansas project came to fruition as a partnership with the State of Kansas, K-State, Kansas State University Innovation Partners, the city of Manhattan, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Pottawatomie County and the county’s economic development arm, Manhattan Area Technical College and several private companies.
The Kansas Department of Commerce said Scorpion Biological qualified for a package of state economic development incentives used to attract large employers the state.
“It’s absolutely critical that we, as a nation, increase our capacity for domestic production of these types of vaccines and we are extremely proud to see this work happen here in Kansas,” said David Toland, secretary of the Department of Commerce and the state’s lieutenant governor.
Wolf said the combination of a public research university and private-sector partners was important to the site selection decision. His business model is to emphasize use of American-manufactured equipment and materials and the procurement of U.S.-made biomanufacturing substances. He expects relationships with Kansas State and the local technical college to include formation of academic programs and training of students for work in biological sciences.
“This facility represents the next stage in our evolution, enabling us to combine speed and agility with the full integration of discovery, development and manufacturing,” Wolf said.
Wolf also founded Seed-One Ventures, a firm focused on the formation and management of new biomedical companies; co-founder of Avigen, a NASDAQ-listed gene therapy company; co-founder of TyRx Pharma, focused on the development of biocompatible polymers; and co-founder of EluSys Therapeutics, a biodefense company concentrating on a medical countermeasure to anthrax exposure after a natural incident or intentional attack.
“There is a strong demand for world-class biomanufacturing, which we expect will continue well into the future,” said David Halverson, president of Scorpion Biological. “Powered by an excellent Kansas workforce, we’re looking forward to rapidly growing and expanding Scorpion.”
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