By Zach Hagadone
Neighbors in Dover have been abuzz in recent days over what may — or may not — happen at the former Thorne Research building.
The almost 60,000-square-foot building located at 24820 Highway 2 was built in 1998 to serve as the headquarters for the vitamin supplement manufacturing firm, but has sat idle since late-2018 when Thorne completed its relocation to South Carolina.
With Thorne’s move went 270 regional employees but, in the meantime, Dover itself has grown rapidly as new residents have flocked to the high-end homes that now dominate the once-sleepy hamlet.
Among those new residents is Ian Evans, who just this month completed a move to Dover with his wife and children. Along with his household, Evans also brings with him plans for the Thorne building as a multi-faceted medical services facility combining administrative staffing services for small clinics around the country; the potential manufacturing, receiving and distribution of medical collection kits for bone marrow, blood, urine, oral and nasal fluid, and tissue samples; and a site for “regenerative medicine” that would include the processing and storage of stem cells harvested by individuals and cryogenically frozen for potential future use in cancer treatments.
What he’s not bringing from his Spokane Valley-based suite of companies — which includes Lynx Healthcare and AARK Labs — is COVID-19 testing, which has been the talk of the town.
“I have zero intent of putting COVID-19 testing here, just to be crystal clear,” he told the Sandpoint Reader. “We’re not going to be applying for applications to do that.”
More than one Dover resident has raised concerns about the potential new use for the Thorne building, sending emails to city officials expressing a mixture of concern, curiosity and confusion about the new occupant. According to Diane Brockway, who serves as president of the Dover City Council, it’s all too early to tell, which has helped feed speculation.
“We would like to know so we can put our residents’ minds at ease,” she said, noting that the city remains in the dark about the company’s specific plans. “When we do know what they want it to be — and then we go through the process of what it can be — I think the whole area should know.”
A letter of support for the facility in Dover had been up for consideration at the Aug. 25 business meeting of the Bonner County Board of County Commissioners, but officials decided that after speaking with Dover City Mayor Mike Davis, who expressed some concerns about a lack of information on the company’s plans, the letter was removed from the agenda.
Speaking to the Reader ahead of the Aug. 25 BOCC business meeting, Davis said, “We have no idea” what’s being planned at the Thorne building, other than the owners had asked to transfer utilities.
“I don’t believe they are COVID-19 specific but are looking at medical research for a variety of cures,” Commissioner Dan McDonald told the Reader in an email. “That’s about all I know for now.”
A draft of the letter, provided by the county, suggested that the project by AARK Labs — which Evans said in a separate email “does not plan on having a lab here in Dover” — has “the potential in creating 200+ new jobs in our community” and noted that it could be provide “a meaningful community match to support this project” with a FY2021 property tax exemption pending filing by the company and approval by the commissioners in April 2021.
Yet, according to an email from county staff, “The county has no info on AARK Labs or their plans.”
Evans said he was surprised at the level of interest in his company’s potential activities in Dover, and was quick to dispel the rumor of a COVID-19 test facility — while noting that his firm does provide such testing in part through mobile units that have been deployed around Washington, including at Whitman College in the south-central part of the state, according to news reports.
“All COVID-19, all viral-related services are going to stay on the Washington state side,” he said, adding that Lynx Healthcare has been in business for 11 years — currently DBA under Pinnacle Pain Center PS and also known as Lynx Laboratory — providing a range of other medical and lab services that will continue at its Spokane Valley location in a business center on Mirabeau Parkway. “It almost felt like we were being attacked by our neighbors,” he added.
To allay community concerns, Evans reiterated that he’s most interested in putting in place the clinical staffing administration services and medical kit manufacturing/distribution components to pay the bills while his passion project is on the regenerative medicine mission — in large part because of his personal experience with pediatric cancer, which nearly claimed two of his children’s lives.
“[My son] survived the impossible and a big reason — if not the only reason — is this research that my wife and I have helped fund over the past several years,” he said.
According to Evans — whose family’s story has been featured on national television media — one of his children received a cancer diagnosis as an infant, with “a 1-in-1,000 chance of survival.” With several injections of the boy’s stem cells, Evans reported a dramatic improvement in his condition.
Referring to the process as “living life insurance,” Evans said it differs from other stem cell harvesting procedures in that individuals elect to collect and preserve their own cells, paying a processing fee and monthly bill akin to a term-life insurance policy for storage. He was critical of other methods of stem cell harvesting, including what he described as giveaways to big pharma by hospitals and organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and said his company offers its service for a fraction of the $30,000 he and his family were charged for similar treatment for their son.
“We want to undercut these labs that are corrupt,” he said, citing a price point of “somewhere in the range of 1/20th to 1/30th of the cost of other labs.”
Emphasizing that “it was too early in the process” to go forward with a county letter of support, Evans wrote in an email, “What we do know for sure is at this time we have decided that no COVID testing will be performed in the Dover building.”
Referring to the decision to move operations to Dover, Evans said a big impetus was to provide services on “the other side” of the Washington-Idaho border, “where America’s still America, I guess.”
Much of the work of Lynx Healthcare — as well as AARK Labs and Living Life Stem Cells, both of which share the Mirabeau Parkway address in Spokane Valley — Evans ascribes to providing a public good. In the case of AARK Labs, which performs COVID-19 testing, “[We] answered the call of our president to repurpose our molecular lab … We want to get you back to work and not let these governors shut you down,” he said, referring to testing efforts geared toward fire departments, police forces and other essential businesses whose operations have been threatened by the ongoing pandemic.
Looking forward, Evans said he’s hoping to get operations moved into the Thorne building around Oct. 1, in the meantime working with local governments to put all the paperwork in order — though, “As of right now, we’re not going to use [the building] for any purpose other than what it was already set up for.”
That said, he is paying attention to the sense of concern expressed by some neighbors who are uneasy about a bio-medical facility that, in some cases, abuts directly with their properties.
“Quite frankly, I want to know if we’re well received or not well received. I want to do it in a community that’s excited to have us. … I don’t want to do something that goes against that grain,” he said. “I believe in America still being America and if they’re going to take away our rights to do it or fight against it … maybe we won’t create as many jobs here.”
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