A San Diego-based biotech company this week announced its plans to expand into Missoula, where it looks to open an office and build a team in its pursuit of curing injuries to the central nervous system.

Nichole Rush with the Missoula Economic Partnership said investors at Two Bear Capital helped pique the company's interest in Montana.

“They're opening an office in Missoula, possibly in MonTech,” said Rush. “They have a Montana connection through a funder at Two Bear Capital. I've been talking to them (Novoron) over the past month, and they're highly interested in coming here.”

Dr. Travis Stiles, president and CEO of Novoron, described the company as a biotech firm that spun out of the University of California-San Diego. The company is working on ways to regenerate nerves in the spinal cord and treat other disorders in the central nervous system.

The company's advisory board includes a long list of doctors and PhDs.

“The cool little niche we fit in, most people can relate nowadays that people can get fingers and arms chopped off and have them put back on, and people can regain some function,” Stiles said. “But people who get spinal cord injuries are still permanently disabled.”

In simple terms, Stiles described nerves that operate muscles as somewhat simple while those in the central nervous system are far more complex. The latter face certain barriers when trying to regenerate after an injury – something Novoron is working to overcome.

It's working on therapeutics that exploit nerve receptors to regenerate within the nervous system.

“We were largely branding ourselves as a spinal cord, Multiple Sclerosis company that happened to be targeting this receptor as our means of promoting this neural repair,” Stiles said. “We didn't discover this drug receptor. We're just giving the brain or spinal cord back its ability repair itself.”

Missoula in recent years has slowly emerged as a burgeoning biotech hub, and the addition of Novoron would further advance those goals. Stiles said the overhead costs of operating a business like Novoron from Montana are less than California.

Stiles said the company has already identified talent in Missoula.

“Above everything else was the really unique opportunity with the University of Montana and its public and private partnership,” Stiles said. “It gives us a unique opportunity to have a more immersive and integrative approach to our animal studies.”

Aided by Jay Evans, the president and CEO of Inimmune and a research professor at the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana, helped launch the university's Center for Transnational Medicine.

The center serves a bridge between Montana's public and private biotech sector.

“I truly believe there's a major gap in how we develop drugs for the brain and spinal cord,” said Stiles. “There are things we can do to develop drugs in humans that we cannot do in the animal models we use. The technology exists to bridge that gap, but no one has done it for the central nervous system yet, and that's what I want to set up in Montana. It gives us more freedom to take our time and do it right.”