Bozeman pharmaceutical company LigoCyte, in conjunction with Sen. Max Baucus' office and economic development agents, is exploring whether LigoCyte's norovirus vaccine, now under development, could be manufactured in Bozeman, officials announced Monday afternoon.

The "major biotech manufacturing facility" is envisioned as a public/private venture that could bring hundreds of biotech jobs to the area, said Rob Bargatze, LigoCyte's chief scientific officer.

A feasibility study will explore how much the facility would cost, what it would look like and what private and public money would be available to fund its development.

If the study proves fruitful, such a facility would mean 30 to 40 jobs immediately and between 200 and 300 jobs in the long run, according to LigoCyte estimates.

"For us, it's really important because it would give us a lot more control over the manufacturing process," Bargatze said, noting that the company now uses facilities on the East Coast to test the Bozeman-made vaccine.

The study will be conducted by a partnership formed by Baucus and partially funded by money left over from Baucus' economic development summit held last year in Butte. The partnership includes the Montana Economic Developers Association, the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, Prospera Business Network and LigoCyte.

"A new manufacturing facility in Bozeman has enormous potential in leading the way to more affordable medical treatments and technological advancements while boosting our economy in a sustainable way," Baucus said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

LigoCyte is now in phase II testing of its norovirus vaccine. Norovirus is commonly referred to as "stomach flu" - though it is not actually a strain of influenza - and causes diarrhea and other ailments.

Last fall, LigoCyte had promising results from its first human trial, which showed that people given its vaccine were less susceptible to the stomach bug.

The new facility would be designed to meet FDA requirements for Phase III vaccine trials - the final phase LigoCyte's vaccine would have to go through before going to market.

Under best-case scenarios, LigoCyte is still years away from entering phase III testing, Bargatze said, as would a major facility like the one being looked into now.

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

 

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