Decision near on firm’s Rifle plans |

Decision near on firm’s Rifle plans

Rifle residents shouldn’t have to wait long to learn whether their town is still in the running for Meristem Therapeutics’ U.S. headquarters.

“I think the decision will come fairly shortly,” said John Cevette, the Greeley resident responsible for organizing the French firm’s closed-door meetings with Garfield County business, government and elected officials last week.

Meristem spokesperson Emmanuel Boures said the Rifle visit was the first of three steps the company will use to determine whether it will locate in Colorado or elsewhere in the United States.

“The second step will involve finding investors, and the final step will be determining the location,” Boures said in an e-mail to the Post Independent.

Meristem Therapeutics is a Clermont-Ferrand, France-based biotechnology firm that owns numerous patents used in the production of therapeutic proteins.

One of Rifle’s selling points is the 13 acres of greenhouses attached to the American Atlas No. 1 co-generation power plant south of Interstate 70. Cevette said Meristem could do research at the greenhouses, which are warmed by waste heat from the power plant, and produce corn for its products in eastern Colorado.

Cevette, executive director of the Colorado Corn Growers Association, said he was introduced to Meristem after the firm received a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit to grow experimental corn in the Greeley area last year.

Cevette later traveled to Paris to meet with Meristem CEO Bertrand Merot, in an attempt to recruit the firm to Colorado.

“This is the type of company the state should attract to Colorado,” Cevette said. “This is a value-added product for the corn industry.”

During last week’s visit to Colorado, Merot, who holds a Ph.D in genetics and an MBA in business, met with Colorado Gov. Bill Owens in Denver, and later with the presidents of the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, Cevette said.

Merot and two other Meristem representatives met with dozens of Garfield County representatives during a day-long series of meetings Dec. 4 that ended with a reception at Exclamation Point restaurant on top of Iron Mountain.

Those attending included Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, state Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig, Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert and representatives from Battlement Mesa and Vail, according to Carbondale Economic Development Director Jo-an Barnett, who also attended.

Barnett said Meristem employees would probably live along the Interstate 70 corridor and in the Roaring Fork River valley. She prepared a packet of information to sell Carbondale to Meristem that included information about the town’s schools, area activities and Aspen attractions.

“These are world-class people,” Barnett said of the Meristem executives she met. “I’ve been told the reason a company relocates is because the top executive wants to live there.”

Rifle interim city manager Gary Suiter said one Meristem executive rides a Harley, and another likes cross-country skiing.

Meristem employees would be relocating from Clermont-Ferrand, a city of 250,000 in central France.

Boures would not reveal other U.S. states and towns Meristem is considering, but Cevette speculated Texas is on the list.

Meristem has a small office in Cambridge, Mass., but is looking at establishing an actual U.S. headquarters in Colorado or another state for two reasons, Cevette said.

First, the United States is the largest pharmaceutical market in the world, Cevette said.

Second, the U.S. pharmaceutical review process is the most rigorous in the world.

“If a product is approved here, it’s easier to sell in other countries,” Cevette said.

Meristem is in the final U.S. approval stages for a protein that would be used in a prescription drug to treat childhood cystic fibrosis, Cevette said.

“It’s in stage two clinical trials, which means it’s being tested on humans, Cevette said.

Cevette expects the new drug to be on the U.S. market between 2005 and 2007.

“Several other products are currently in the pre-clinical stage,” Boures said.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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