An Iowa company on the cutting edge of cancer research came to the statehouse to praise the benefits of the Iowa Values Fund on Tuesday. NewLink genetics in Ames says the state’s now-defunct economic-development program may have spawned many more biomedical companies in Iowa. A year ago, the Iowa Values Fund board awarded 6-Million dollars to NewLink Genetics, to expand its cancer research and testing facilities in Ames. The company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Nicholas Vahanian says that grant helped NewLink secure more private investors. One deficiency in business support in Iowa, he says, is the lack of capital, and the support from the Iowa Values Fund meant a lot to his investors. NewLink has now raised 20-million dollars from private investors…and has four cancer vaccines, in clinical trials or headed to that step. But Vahanian says initially large bankers were hesitant to invest in an Iowa company because most biomedical research has been done on the east and west coasts. They’re smart people but he says many have a “herd mentality” — they follow success. He says if NewLink proves to be a success here in the midwest, he says more bio-tech firms will come to Iowa. Vahanian says thanks to that support, NewLink Genetics now feels an obligation to stay in Iowa as it grows. “You need one or two success in Iowa,” he advises, and then people will be surprised. With all the brochures printed, the word of mouth about good work ethics, the weather “not too bad the past few years,” he says evidence of just one business success will mean more to industry than all the marketing the state does on its own behalf. Vahanian says the Iowa Values Fund helps successful companies grow at a faster rate, so more jobs are created. He says the company’s grown from 35 to 40 employees, half of those ISU grads, and while it might have anticipated growing to 100 workers on its own, with the help of the Iowa Values Fund grant he expects it to eventually have 300 jobs. Vahanian testified before the House Economic Growth Committee, which is considering how to restore the Iowa Values Fund after it was struck down by the court last summer.
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