WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES:
1.Ventria cancels move to Northwest Missouri - Dec '05
2.Northwest seals biopharming initiative - Dec '04
The collapse of the Ventria - Missouri deal (see item 1), by which the biotech firm was supposed to relocate to Northwest Missouri State University, follows major opposition to Ventria's proposal to grow GM pharma rice in Missouri's rice-growing region.
When the Ventria deal was first announced, it was claimed that 2,000 acres of Ventria crops would be grown in Missouri in 2005, with Missouri farmers eventually growing more than 70% of Ventria's U.S. field production (item 2). However, Missouri farmers and rice buyers united in opposition to the idea of even Ventria field trials being held in the State.
Major Missouri corporations, including Anheuser-Busch and Riceland Foods, also strongly opposed Ventria's plans, with Anheuser-Busch at one point vowing to boycott Missouri's 30 million-bushel rice crop if pharma plants were grown anywhere in the state.
As a result of all the opposition, no pharma rice trials took place in Missouri in 2005. Missouri has also significantly scaled back its financial support for the project.
The latest set back for Ventria, which has also run into major opposition in California and other US states, follows hard on the heels of the closure of GM pharma firm Large Scale. Large Scale led the way in trying to produce pharmaceuticals in crops but its founder and chairman has admitted that the supposed economic advantages of pharma crops simply aren't proving attractive to the pharmaceutical industry.
The news about the collapse of the Ventria - Missouri deal also comes on the heels of news of a report released by the US Department of Agriculture's inspector general that blasts USDA for lacking even "basic information" on where GM pharma field tests are or on what is done with the pharma crops once they are harvested. "Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology," the report says.
And earlier in December a report from a leading agricultural economist warned that states like Missouri were lining up to grow pharma crops in large part because "proponents have touted the crops as an engine of rural economic development and farmer prosperity". The reality the report argues is very different. Aggregate farmer benefits are actually "likely to be small and rural community benefits may be much more modest than often portrayed."
Compare and contrast that assessment with what one of the main proponents of the Ventria - Missouri deal was claiming at the time the deal was announced: "Farmers [growing Ventria's pharma crops] will make more than two times what they've ever dreamed of making in the past." (item 2)
Northwest Missouri State University President, Dean Hubbard also claimed the deal "has the potential to transform this rural economy," and enhance Missouri's quality of life. (item 2)
The hype didn't stop there. State Rep. Brad Lager also claimed (vaguely!), "This has the possibility to change a lot of things and really impact us for the better". (item 2)
The University's President is still optimistically spinning the future (see item 1) despite the collapse of his much cherished deal. Missouri's farmers, however, have decidedly not bought into the pharma dream.
1.Ventria cancels move to Northwest Missouri
Colombia Tribune, December 31, 2005
KANSAS CITY (AP) - A California-based company specializing in plant-made pharmaceuticals announced yesterday that it won't be coming to Northwest Missouri State University.
Ventria Bioscience had planned to remove proteins from genetically modified rice at a facility under construction at the university. The proteins could be refined for use in medicines to fight diarrhea, dehydration and other illnesses.
The company, based in Sacramento, Calif., was to anchor the Missouri Center of Excellence for Plant Biologics on the university's campus in Maryville. The school planned the center with the hope that it would stimulate the rural economy and provide students with opportunities in biotechnology fields.
But the university's president, Dean Hubbard, said demand for Ventria’s product had increased much faster than anticipated. Within the next two years, the company would need 10 times more capacity than could be provided at the protein extraction facility under construction, Hubbard said. The school and Ventria had planned to build a larger extraction facility in a second phase of construction, but money for that project couldn’t be raised quickly enough.
"We were struggling because they needed to do extraction much faster than we had originally expected, and we simply couldn’t meet those deadlines in terms of construction and funding," he said.
Hubbard said that Ventria's withdrawal does not signal an end to the Center for Excellence.
"We developed a concept before we knew Ventria existed," he said. "That concept is as viable today as it was then. What we simply will do is go to one of the other companies we’ve had discussions with and find another anchor client that can fit into what we do."
2.Northwest seals biopharming initiative
By Sarah Swedberg
University News Editor
The Northwest Missourian, December 3, 2004
A partnership between a California-based company and Northwest Missouri State could provide a seed for area farmers, local businesses, the University and the state to enhance its quality of life.
"It has the potential to transform this rural economy," President Dean Hubbard said.
Touted throughout the past year as "biopharming," the collaboration between biology, pharmacology and farming is slated to have revenue potential of up to $200 million - but it's only the beginning.
Over time, Northwest Missouri could turn into a hub for plant-made pharmaceutical production while encouraging economic development, attracting the life sciences industry, enhancing University curriculum and providing new jobs for the area.
This initiative adds a new perspective that drives the four legs of northwest Missouri's economy, said State Rep. Brad Lager. Consisting of academia, industrial manufacturing, business and agriculture, bioresearch and biopharmaceuticals add a leg he said that could assist the others.
"This has the possibility to change a lot of things and really impact us for the better," Lager said.
Northwest and the Sacramento, Calif. Company Ventria Biosciences signed an agreement Nov. 18, which stipulates that the company relocate its production facilities and 13 scientists to the region. This will heavily involve resources from Northwest and the state in the next several years.
More than $30 million in funding from both entities will finance an off-campus Ventria facility to be located in the old AC Lightning building east of Maryville, a 22,000 square-foot addition to Garrett-Strong Science Building and greenhouses to be located on the University's R.T. Wright Farm north of Maryville.
In order to seal the agreement, $5 million in investments were required to finance Ventria's operating costs before profits are made.
The biopharmaceutical company will begin growing rice in southeastern Missouri on up to 2,000 acres of land this coming spring before moving production here in a couple of years.
"It's not something that is going to happen over night, this is going to be something that is going to have to take place over a series of years," said Jeff Thornsberry, assistant professor of Biology and an expert in biopharmaceuticals.
Therapeutic proteins will be extracted from the crops, and will then be refined and formulated into medical foods or pharmaceuticals that will eventually promise affordable medicines to treat illnesses such as dysentery, as well as to create specialized baby formulas. Ultimately, Northwest students working toward soon to be added bachelor's and master’s degrees in nanotechnology will take part in the gene extraction process, placing the University at an academic advantage.
"We are looking at between the Biology, Chemistry and Physics departments in developing a curriculum in biotechnology and nanotechnology that will be able to bring in some new faculty members and expand the types of course offerings that are available to our students," Thornsberry said. "We're trying to increase the overall exposure to some of these high tech, cutting edge areas of research that are taking place in the sciences."
He added that students will have expanded opportunities to learn about state of the art techniques in the fields of cellular and molecular biology and biochemistry when Ventria begins its work in Missouri.
Also by attracting Ventria Bioscience to Northwest Missouri, this provides the opportunity of attracting other companies, said Lee Langerock, Executive Director of the Nodaway County Economic Development.
"It brings a whole different dimension concerning the workforce and the education opportunities to Maryville and the surrounding communities," she said.
Even though Ventria's President and CEO could not be reached for a comment, the biopharmaceutical company choose to relocate in Missouri because the state is a leader in the development and commercialization of biotechnology. Both Northwest Missouri State and the State of Missouri have worked with Ventria to develop the infrastructure and facilities necessary to bring the company to market for the benefit of global health.
"I think everything is in place to make this successful," Lager said. "I look forward to working with Ventria Bioscience, Northwest Missouri State University and our community to grow and move this project forward."
Northwest was in competition with various other states, including Louisiana, North Carolina and Kentucky to seal Ventria's coveted presence. Beneficiaries include Northwest Missouri farmers, who will grow more than 70 percent of Ventria's continental U.S. field production - predominantly in gene-modified crops such as barley and wild rice.
Ultimately, Hubbard said, finding willing participants won't be difficult.
"Farmers will make more than two times what they've ever dreamed of making in the past," Hubbard said.