An Australian agricultural biotech company, AgBiTech Pty Ltd, has opened a research laboratory to develop new biological solutions for key insect pests in crops. Based at the University of Missouri Life Science Business Incubator in Columbia, Mo., the AgBiTech research laboratory began operating Oct. 7.

The laboratory will build on AgBiTech’s experience in developing and producing commercial biological control agents that harness insect viruses discovered from nature, such as baculoviruses.

AgBiTech CEO Anthony Hawes said establishing a US–based research laboratory allowed the company to develop a product pipeline that was relevant to international markets, not just Australia. “Investing in a dedicated research facility in North America gives AgBiTech greater flexibility to respond to farmers’ needs worldwide,” said Hawes.

“Our five-year goal is to release several new products targeting significant agricultural pests,” he said. “As a company, we believe insect viruses will become increasingly important in sustainable and safe agricultural food production, and our vision is to be the leaders of product development in this field, he said.”

The first product to emerge from the laboratory will be a new product targeting fall armyworm, a serious pest of many grain and legume crops. AgBiTech is funding a cooperative research and development project with the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) and plans to commence the registration process in early 2014.

To lead the laboratory research team as well as oversee the company’s expanding international research and development program, AgBiTech appointed research entomologist and insect virologist Holly Popham, Ph.D., as chief scientist.

According to Popham, the research team will leverage AgBiTech’s proprietary manufacturing technology, regulatory experience and field knowledge with baculoviruses to help fast-track projects.

“Importantly for our research, AgBiTech has made significant advances in insect mass rearing and high quality virus production to produce cost-effective biological controls for insects, and having access to this knowledge gives our team a clear path to market,” said Popham.

Popham will also work closely with AgBiTech’s Australian-based Production Facility Manager Mark Kinkema, Ph.D., to enhance the company’s production efficiency, quality controls and insect rearing techniques.