Genetic engineering

Animal science firm Recombinetics adds board members, nears $10M investment

Recombinetics, the St. Paul-based “gene-editing” company, is starting to scale up.

Dr. Scott Fahrenkrug, the University of Minnesota researcher and founder, has moved from CEO to chairman of the board and chief scientific officer.

Ian Friendly, 55, a 30-year General Mills veteran, and most recently chief operating officer, has signed on as chief executive.

Tammy Lee Stanoch, 45, a government relations and marketing veteran of Carlson and the former Northwest Airlines, has signed on as chief corporate affairs officer.

Friendly said last week that the company is closing in on a $10 million round of equity capital — raised from individual investors, mostly Minnesotans.

“We’ve had some breakthroughs in technology and developments in animal welfare in agriculture and biomedical research,” Friendly said, adding the firm will have revenue approaching $1 million this year. “We’re ready with products. Now we have to get the other functions ready.

“In three years, we hope to be a public company. There might also be a strategic buyer, but we’re more interested in being an independent company that controls our own destiny. We think, once the flywheel starts turning, the company can grow quickly. Our value is probably as much in IP and royalty [to other companies] as commercial sales.”

The company also has appointed six new board members, including Mitch Abrahamsen, senior vice president of research at Cobb-Vantress, Wendell King, a consultant and former Medtronic vice president; and Mark Kroll, the former chief technology officer at St. Jude Medical.

Recombinetics, founded in 2008, said it is the premier gene-editing company in livestock, with applications in therapeutic development, testing and in animal breeding and care. It produces products such as hornless dairy calves born at a breeding facility in Iowa.

The bull calves will never sprout horns. That means they will not need dehorning, performed by farmers to prevent injuries and a procedure that the American Veterinary Medical Association calls “quite painful.”

Instead, when the calves are born, just a single cell in a petri dish, scientists at Recombinetics used the new tools of gene editing to swap out the bits of genetic code that makes dairy cattle have horns for the one that makes Angus beef cattle have none.

And the tweak, copied into all of their cells through the normal machinery of DNA replication, will also be passed on to subsequent generations.

Neal St. Anthony


Health insurance

Minn. premiums below average despite hikes

Health insurers passed along big rate increases in Minnesota’s individual market for 2016, but a new report suggests premiums on the state’s MNsure exchange were still relatively low.

The report from the Urban Institute says the average monthly premium on MNsure across all parts of the state for the lowest-cost “silver” plan in 2016 is $250 for a 40-year-old nonsmoker.

That’s not the lowest such premium in the nation, as was the case for Minnesota during the first year of the MNsure exchange in 2014. The study finds a lower 2016 average, for example, in Utah ($231), Michigan ($237) and Pennsylvania ($245).

But Minnesota’s average premium is lower than both the Midwest average ($261) and the national average ($283). On a regional basis, the lowest-cost silver plans average a lower monthly cost in the Midwest than in the Northeast, the South and the West.

People buying the lowest-cost silver plan on the exchange are paying $371 per month in North Carolina, $454 per month in Wyoming and $684 per month in Alaska, according to the study, which was conducted with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report acknowledges the pain that many Minnesota consumers in the individual market experienced when buying coverage for 2016, since the lowest-cost silver plans on average increased by about 26 percent. Some plans in parts of Minnesota posted premium increases of more than 50 percent, according to the report.

Broadly speaking, the Minnesota experience fits with that in other states, the Urban Institute says, since places that started out with low premiums have seen large increases.

“There is some regression to the mean; rating areas that had high premiums in 2015 relative to the national average had lower premium growth in 2016 and vice versa,” the report states.

“However, the most important factors associated with lowest-cost silver plan premiums and premium increases are those defining the contours of competition in the market,” it concludes. “Rating areas with more competitors had significantly lower premiums and lower rates of increase than those that did not.”

The study applies only to premiums on the new government-run exchanges created under the federal Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are an option for individuals and families that purchase health insurance outside of employer groups and government programs.

Christopher Snowbeck