Advancing Technologies to Inspire Innovative Medicine

Michael Chambers and John Ballantyne are the recipients of the 2022 Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes alumni who have attained outstanding professional accomplishments.

Story by Nicole Thom-Arens | March 29, 2022

Alumni Achievement Award | Michael Chambers and John Ballantyne | Evening of Distinction 2022 | NDSU Foundation

In 1997, Michael Chambers (B.S. Biotechnology) and John Ballantyne (Ph.D. Pharmaceutical Sciences) graduated from NDSU; in 1998, the two built upon research forged in NDSU labs and founded Aldevron, a company that has become a leader in advancing biological sciences, headquartered in Fargo, North Dakota.

They remember the early days of Aldevron — the long nights and early mornings required to meet a delivery time and the trust researchers placed in them to deliver the crucial DNA needed to expand medicine. The company grew organically. They built a commercial infrastructure and focused on keeping costs down while providing exceptional products that would lead to scientific breakthroughs such as mRNA vaccines and personalized medicine.

NDSU is at the heart of Aldevron's origin story.

“You understand that your job is to get stuff made so the next people in the chain can make the discoveries that make the drugs that save the lives,” John said. “You don’t set out for glory or anything like that, but it is absolutely a remarkable thing to look back on when you see something that showed up 14 years ago, 12 years ago, that’s a drug now, and you can go back to your database and look at the first time it arrived and you made it. There’re not many people in the world who get to experience that.”

Aldevron produces high-quality plasmid DNA, mRNA, proteins, enzymes, antibodies, and other biologicals to scientists around the world; all of the DNA that goes into the creation of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is made by Aldevron.

“Back when we started the company, you could sort of see some of these technologies coming,” Michael said. “But all these new gene therapies we have right now — the COVID vaccine, the oncology products that will save millions of lives — didn’t exist back in the day, but you could predict it.”

By providing large quantities of highly pure nucleic acids used universally in the advancement of gene therapy, Aldevron greatly accelerated scientific progress.

"You're only as good as your locale, and we're very fortunate to be in a great one."

John Ballantyne

Aldevron’s success captured the attention of global science and technology innovator, Danaher. In June 2021, Danaher Corporation purchased Aldevron for approximately $9.6 billion. The company joined Danaher’s Life Sciences segment.

“What is most exciting and most relevant are Aldevron’s employees, the best people in our industry. Most of our executives and impact players are NDSU graduates. These leaders have built an incredible company that is approaching 1,000 associates,” Michael said. “We are one of the flagship innovation engines in genomic medicine for Danaher Corporation, which is 80,000 associates. Many of the best people in Danaher’s genomic medicine division are NDSU graduates.”

When they look to the future, they’re excited about how NDSU and Aldevron will advance genomic medicine and how NDSU’s land-grant mission can bolster the industry by inspiring innovation. They’re looking to the horizon for the next “Aldevrons” that will create new technologies necessary to advance medicine, keep costs down, and treat diseases. John and Michael hope this award will inspire future NDSU graduates who have the drive, desire, and understanding to act on their ideas, and they believe Fargo is the perfect place.

“I don’t think of this as flyover country,” John said. “I think of this as the central part of North America. I think of it as a hub of production and capability. You’re only as good as your locale, and we’re very fortunate to be in a great one.”