Aldevron Tower

A building designed for innovation, ingenuity, and success enhances education at NDSU.

By Nicole Thom-Arens | March 11, 2021

Aldevron Tower, located in the heart of NDSU's campus

North Dakota State University is at the heart of the Aldevron origin story. The Fargo-based biotechnology company focused on gene therapy research — a field that is transforming the entire health care sector — got its start at NDSU in the late ’90s, and all of its co-founders, Michael Chambers ’97, John Ballantyne ’97, Victoria (Knudson) Chambers ’98, and Matt Chambers ’00 are NDSU graduates.

“The foundational work of the company, the foundational research was done in Sudro Hall,” Michael Chambers, Aldevron’s founding CEO and executive chairman, said. “John Ballantyne, our chief scientific officer, Victoria, my wife, helped us build our commercial infrastructure, and my brother, Matt, built our brand. He designed the iconic spark you see atop Aldevron Tower.”

Aldevron Tower, home to the College of Health Professions, sits in the heart of campus. The tower includes a Pharmacy Practice Instructional Laboratory with sterile and non-sterile compounding laboratories, community and institutional practice areas, and telehealth/telepharmacy accommodations. The second floor features a Simulation Suite which includes: a home health apartment, trauma bay and birthing suite, two medical/surgical hospital rooms, a pediatric hospital room, patient call system, and nurses’ station. The teaching and training happening inside are helping meet the critical need for the next generation of health care professionals and groundbreaking scientists, so when Aldevron was asked to invest, Chambers and Ballantyne were happy to get involved.

“We understand that because of the footprint that we occupy in our part of the continuum of the biotech universe,” John Ballantyne, Aldevron’s chief scientific officer and co-founder, said, “we see a lot of new, sort of nascent, technologies that come along and they need facilities and the people like this to bring those to fruition.

“I think (Aldevron Tower) is a fine example of the type of asset that lies within this building, on this great campus, adjacent to the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences as a way of massively expanding the footprint of the workforce that’s going to be needed in the future to take and run with the work and stand on the shoulders of those giants that have helped create this sort of capability, these types of sciences.”

This $28-million facility is the first teaching and research building on NDSU’s campus to be completely privately funded. Imagining, designing, and funding the six-floor home of the College of Health Professions was a 14-year project. To see it come to fruition is an enormous accomplishment for faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college.

“This new state-of-the-art facility will provide us much needed additional space to address our tremendous growth that we’ve had as a college,” Charles Peterson, Dean of the College of Health Professions, said. “It will also provide our faculty with the latest advancements in technology to provide the highest quality education to our students.”

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More than 2,000 students are enrolled in the College of Health Professions programs, including pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy practice, nursing, allied sciences, and public health. Aldevron Tower creates classroom and simulation experiences that align all disciplines for more opportunities to collaborate.

“Aldevron Tower showcases the educational experience we get in the College of Health Professions here at NDSU,” Lauren Nordberg, an NDSU pharmacy major, said. “Interprofessional collaboration is critical in today’s health care industry. Working with and learning from my peers in the college, while in Aldevron Tower, will be essential for my future career and patient interactions as a pharmacist.”

Those moments of interprofessional collaboration are vital to student success after graduation and something Chambers and Ballantyne benefitted from when they were students nearly twenty-five years ago.

“Our professors provided a research experience that allowed us to develop the technology that today is helping millions of people around the world,” Chambers said. “One of the best things about NDSU is the research experience it provides undergraduates. I was able to work in a laboratory in my freshman year and in my sophomore year, I was actually awarded a grant to study a new field called DNA vaccines, and one of the first things you learn when you work with DNA vaccines is that you need a lot of plasma DNA, so my colleagues and I worked together to develop ways that had never been done before to manufacture very large quantities of a special type of DNA called plasma DNA this formed the basis for Aldevron.”

In 1998, when Aldevron was founded, Chambers was completing his undergraduate in biotechnology and microbiology and Ballantyne was working on his Ph.D. in the department of pharmaceutical sciences. Despite studying in different academic areas, the two were united through their individual research projects.

“It wasn’t just the quality of the education that emboldened us to go out and do this, it was also the fact that we were young and naïve, but one of the things that really stood out was the ability to work across departments,” Ballantyne said. “Perhaps it was the time, perhaps it was demography, the geography, of the area — the willingness of faculty to work with you even though they might have thought, ‘Oof, these guys, you know, they’re crazy’ — but we had an instance where there was sort of an overlap in that one of my colleagues was working with liposomes for the delivery of cancer agents and Mike was working with DNA and needed a better way to formulate it and get better delivery.”

Michael Chambers and John Ballantyne talk about Aldevron’s history with NDSU.

Aldevron Tower’s flexible learning spaces are open, accessible, and shared to create opportunities for interprofessional education where student learn to care for patients as a health care team, which will be essential in the work they do after graduation.

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