Suresh Daniel arrived in Missoula as a 19 year-old student in the University of Montana’s biology program. After graduating, Suresh worked locally as a researcher at St. Patrick’s Hospital. Today he’s the CEO of Rocky Mountain Biologicals, a globally recognized leader in the biotechnology industry with 16 employees. And, he still gets to call the university town he fell in love with over a decade ago home.
Suresh founded Rocky Mountain Biologicals (RMBIO) in 2004 when he saw the emerging opportunity for a biotechnology company to succeed globally from the heart of Big Sky Country. RMBIO manufactures cell culture components that are used to grow vaccines for productivity-destroying diseases like influenza. Suresh describes RMBIO as a “manufacturing company in the bioscience space.”
From their state-of-the-art headquarters in Missoula, the company sells their vaccine products to pharmaceutical industry giants Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly. Suresh is understandably proud of the impact RMBIO has had in the global market.
“Rocky Mountain Biologicals is one of two companies in the world making cell culture supplements used in human therapeutics and pharmaceuticals that go directly to specific cells in the body for a very targeted effect. The other is the world’s oldest and most established pharmaceutical company, Merck.”
RMBIO started with a total of four people on staff, including Suresh. The company is completely privately funded; raising over $10 million from local angel investors allowed RMBIO to get where they are today without a single state or federal grant. In the past three years, their consistent hard work and diligent research paid off when revenue numbers began a steady climb. Those profits have allowed the company to hire talented people in a variety of positions and make upgrades to their facility.
Suresh and his colleagues at RMBIO are active members of the Missoula Vaccine Partnership, and see their location in the Garden City as an integral component of their success;
“There are only a handful of places in the world that have the resources this area of Montana does. GlaxoSmithKline, the NIH Lab, UofM, and incredible research facilities at St. Pat’s are all within 60 miles of Missoula. Amazing collaborative opportunities and infrastructure are the makings of a tremendous life sciences and biotechnology industry. We’re really committed to bringing more manufacturing jobs here.”
In 2011, the State of Montana and Missoula Economic Partnership helped forge the Missoula Vaccine Partnership, which aims to fill the need for vaccine manufacturing in the United States. Led by RMBIO, the partnership has undertaken a $25,000 feasibility study funded by the Big Sky Trust Fund.
“We’ve got high-quality people, an educated work force, and the assets that are inherent to a biotech environment,” said Suresh. “We’ve got a great group of people that can foster this along.”
Suresh is equally ambitious in terms of his forecasts for his company:
“We really think this will be a watershed year for RMBIO. Right now, we’re constantly growing - our numbers are steadily increasing, and we’re gaining market share and expanding our product offerings. We’re really excited to add more jobs and give more people the opportunity to have the career they want right here in Montana.”
Suresh points out other benefits of starting a biotechnology company in Montana, such as significantly lower overhead than he would have taken on in other bioscience hotspots like New Jersey, San Diego, or Boston. But, for Suresh, the biggest benefit is the ability to raise his family in a tight-knit community with tremendous cultural amenities.
“RMBIO is looking to dig our roots deeper in Missoula because this is where we want to be, and because the wealth of talented graduates coming out of UofM and the potential for collaboration we have here would be difficult to find elsewhere.”