The new CEO at Recombinetics has a plan for commercialization of what largely has been a genetics-health research firm.

Mark Platt, 53, an electrical engineer who has led industrial manufacturing as well as health care businesses in Wisconsin, joined the St. Paul-based company in late February. 

The decade-old bio-tech firm produces “gene-edited” farm animals and uses pigs to improve human health in several ways. “I really want to make a difference,” said Platt of his role at the 40-employee company that also must navigate evolving government regulatory issues as well as critics who oppose developing gene-edited animals.

Platt succeeds Tammy Lee, a career marketer and communications professional who has taken a leave of absence from the company and who may return in another capacity, the company said.

Platt was hired six months after Gundersen Health System of La Crosse, Wis., invested $34 million in equity capital in Recombinetics.

In addition to being an owner and CEO of Multistack of Sparta, Wis., and leading Midwest sales at LaCrosse-based Trane, the HVAC-equipment manufacturer, Platt was senior vice president of business services at Gundersen Health from 2013 to 2017.

His forte is understanding complicated technology and bureaucracy, trying to simplify things, getting the product developer-manufacturers and sales folks to work together to grow the business.

“I’m an organizational health guy,” Platt said last week. “You’re trying to accomplish something that’s a lot bigger than yourself.”

In a statement, Peter Hajas, the Recombinetics board chairman, said: “Mark … is the right person to guide our corporate culture and nurture relationships with key stakeholders to achieve goals of improving human lives, feeding the world’s growing population and reducing animal suffering.”

Three businesses are at varying stages of development at Recombinetics. The most advanced is Acceligen, which uses genetically modified breeding to enhance “health and productivity” among livestock, such as hornless heifers that no longer hurt each other or go through painful horn removal. Recombinetics was launched by Dr. Scott Fahrenkrug, still a board member and shareholder, who used genetics to relieve farmers of the messy job of dehorning calves with tools that hurt the animals. The procedure was long opposed by animal-welfare groups and some retailers.

Acceligen likely will require one more round of capital to support its growing menu of bioengineered livestock services before it can be sold to a larger operation or, possibly, spun off as its own independent company, according to Platt.

Another Recombinetics subsidiary is Surrogen, which produces gene-edited “swine models” of disease for biomedical research, such as the effect of drug treatments on pigs before human testing. And Regenevida develops human-regenerative products, such as cells and organs for transplantation to humans. These are two very hot areas of medical research that seek to supplant medical devices with what could be less-expensive, living organisms.

For example, Recombinetics is partnering with Mayo Clinic to research methods of growing human cardiac cells inside pigs to treat children with potentially fatal heart defects. Recombinetics has said this could be the first step in the use of specially modified pigs to grow human cells, tissues and maybe even whole organs that could be safe for transplant and avoid rejection by patient immune systems.

Platt asserts that producing a pig in Recombinetics biomedical business that has Alzheimer’s disease on which drugs can be tested, for example, will yield a lot more effective results applicable to humans than tests on the customary subjects of laboratory mice.

“There’s a huge failure rate in going from mice to humans,” he said.

Recombinetics said Acceligen should be regulated by the Department of Agriculture, and not as a drug, since gene-editing of animals doesn’t introduce new substances but accelerates the desired traits that would typically take generations through natural breeding.

“Acceligen’s gene-edited animals have native traits and are not GMO,” Recombinetics said in a statement. “Naturally occurring genes are not drugs.”

Platt said Recombinetics will have several million in revenue this year from commercial sales, as well as government and industry research grants.

Before last year’s $34 million investment by Gundersen Health, Recombinetics had raised $27 million from individual investors since 2008.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.