Editor’s note: This story, by Joseph Gresser, first appeared in the Barton Chronicle.
A South Korean biotechnology firm plans to manufacture portable dialysis machines and heart pumps in Newport. AnC Bio US is purchasing an empty 90,000 square foot building in the city that it plans to transform into a biotechnology factory.
A portion of the facility will be set aside for a research laboratory. AnC Bio would produce stem cells and vaccines, and possibly develop artificial organs, at the Newport plant.
The proposed $100 million facility would employ 200 people in the economically depressed city on the Canadian border. Spin-off economic activity could lead to as many as 1,300 jobs in the area, according to officials from the firm.
The construction of the state-of-the-art laboratory and manufacturing plant will be funded through the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to obtain a green card and a path to U.S. citizenship in exchange for making a $500,000 investment in a project that creates at least 10 permanent jobs. The EB-5 program is set to expire in 2012, barring an extension sought by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Bill Stenger, president and co-owner of Jay Peak Resort, recently used EB-5 visas in Vermont as a funding source for a major overhaul of his Northeast Kingdom ski area. Stenger is also an investor in AnC Bio. Ariel Quiros, the founder of AnC Bio, is a co-owner of Jay Peak Resort.
Stenger said he also intends to use EB-5 visa money to finance a hotel and convention center that he and Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau plan to build on the shores of Lake Memphremagog.
AnC investors have paid a third of the $3.15 million sales price for the Bogner building and the accompanying 25 acres. Stenger predicted that he will have the rest of the money in hand in six to nine months. Construction will begin within a year, he said.
The company hopes to produce an artificial heart for surgical procedures once it obtains approval for the device from the Food and Drug Administration. In an interview, Quiros said he believes that manufacturing biotech products in the United States will ease the FDA approval process.
The heart pump, called a Twin True Pulsatile Percutaneous Life Support System, has been used with success in other countries, officials say.The small, portable dialysis system will be ready to be manufactured soon after the pump is in production.
In addition to medical device manufacture, AnC Bio is a world leader in stem cell research, according to William Kelly, an advisor to the company who spoke at a recent press conference in Newport with Sen. Leahy, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Quiros and Stenger.
They called me a mad scientist, but what the world sees as a risk, I continue to pursue it, and pursue it and pursue it.”
Founder, AnC Bio
Kelly said AnC Bio has been working on a process to repair damaged heart muscle with the help of adult stem cell technology. A patient, he said, would have a small amount of flesh removed from his thigh. That material would be processed and the few adult stems cells it contains would be extracted and cloned in the company’s laboratories. When injected into the heart, they would rebuild heart muscle, Kelly said.
The therapy, he said, has been tested on hundreds of people in Europe, Australia and the United States. “We are probably, right now, about 100 to 150 patients away in reaching approval in our ability to put this therapy on the market,” Kelly said.
When that happens, Kelly predicted, the process will “put Newport on the map.”
AnC’s research laboratory would also produce vaccines, according to Kelly.
In addition, Quiros told reporters that AnC would produce stem cells for other companies and develop artificial organs such as hearts, kidneys and livers.
Research will be conducted in an 11,000-square-foot laboratory in the Bogner building.
In pursuit of risk
Ariel Quiros, who spoke from his Florida office in a telephone interview, said he founded AnC Bio after completing his military service in South Korea, where he met and married his wife.
The company was originally a trading company, Quiros said, making purchases on behalf of the Korean government. AnC Bio took its present form and name in the late 1980s, at a time when South Korea was making the transition from being an exporter of cheap goods to its present status as a maker of high-tech products.
“They called me a mad scientist,” Quiros said, “but what the world sees as a risk, I continue to pursue it, and pursue it and pursue it.”
Quiros, who owns a farm in the Northeast Kingdom and has a long connection with the area, said Gov. Jim Douglas and a 30-person Vermont delegation to the company’s South Korean research facility proposed the U.S. branch of AnC Bio.
After the 10-day visit, Quiros said, he was bombarded with calls asking him to consider building a similar facility in Vermont.
About one-third of the 200 new jobs will be factory work, Stenger said. Another third of the jobs would require additional education, he said, adding that his company plans to work with Vermont Technical College and, possibly, the University of Vermont to make courses available.
The final portion of jobs, particularly those in the research area of the company, will require higher education, Stenger said.
“You’d be amazed how many Vermonters have advanced degrees and would love to come home, if there were jobs in their field,” he said. “If we don’t find folks from our community, we’d look outside.”