JUNCTION CITY, Kan. -- Kansas state officials have signed an agreement that will bring Ventria Bioscience's processing facility for plant-made pharmaceuticals to Junction City and likely the first rice cultivation seen in Kansas.

State officials said the opening of the plant by Ventria, based in Sacramento, Calif., is a significant advancement in Kansas' involvement in bioscience.

"Agriculture has long been the backbone of the Kansas economy, so it's appropriate we would embrace this opportunity to make the most of scientific advances in plant-made pharmaceuticals," said Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. "I welcome Ventria Bioscience to Kansas and look forward to their contributions to the health of children worldwide."

The bioprocessing facility, to be located in Junction City, will process a variety of rice developed by Ventria. Proteins extracted from the rice will be incorporated into oral rehydration solutions to address childhood diarrhea. Ventria is also developing other products using these proteins. The rice itself is then discarded.

Ventria has been searching for a home for a while. A Ventria media release from Nov. 4, 2004, said that Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo., and Ventria had reached an agreement "that could turn Northwest Missouri into a Center of Excellence for plant-made pharmaceutical production." The company also announced plans to grow the genetically modified rice in Missouri.

But as the Associated Press noted today, Ventria withdrew from Missouri a year later after rice farmers and others protested. The university said at the time that the deal fell through because demand for the product would be so great in two years' time that they could not have enough capacity in place, the AP reported in December, 2005. Topeka, Kan., and surrounding Shawnee County was also vying actively for the plant this year.

Today's Kansas BIO news release said Junction City led the effort to attract Ventria to Kansas.

"The bioprocessing facility is an exciting opportunity for new jobs in Junction City and is expected to contribute $40 million to the Kansas economy by the time it is fully operational," said Junction City Mayor Terry Heldstab.

Kansas farmers are expected to be among the project's major beneficiaries, as those who grow the rice that supplies the facility can earn a premium compared to their next most lucrative crop, said Kansas Agriculture Secretary Adrian Polansky.

In July, Polansky was quoted by the AP in July as saying "Ventria hopes to eventually grow 30,000 acres of rice in Kansas, possibly in five to six years." He put the added profit to growers at a guaranteed $150 to $200 per acre -- totalling $6 million a year of added income to Kansas farmers. Rice is not currently grown in the state.

"This is an important development for Kansas farmers, who stand to benefit from the additional income," he said. "They also have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping provide affordable healthcare products to children who desperately need it."

Ventria CEO Scott Deeter said the decision to establish this part of his company's operations in Kansas was the result of an impressive, coordinated effort by key players at the state level, as well as on the local level in Junction City.

"The new bioprocessing facility in Junction City will provide the infrastructure to deliver affordable healthcare solutions on a global basis to those who need it most," said Deeter. "In working with Kansas to choose this location, we have been extremely impressed by the state's clear commitment to biotechnology, its support of the growing field of plant-made pharmaceuticals, and its understanding of how this field will improve healthcare for all."

The effort to attract Ventria to Kansas involved a number of players, including Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polansky, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Junction City and Geary County, Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, KansasBio, Kansas State University and Kansas Farm Bureau.

"This announcement today is very satisfying, as KTEC and our partners have worked for over a year to bring Ventria's operation to Kansas," said Tracy Taylor, president and CEO of KTEC. "Strategically, Ventria provides an outstanding opportunity for Kansas, given our agricultural strengths and focus on the biosciences."

More information on plant-made pharmaceuticals online:

  • www.plantpharma.org, Web page of the International Academy of Life Sciences.

  • www.bio.org/healthcare/pmp, the BIO (Biotech Industry Organization) Web page on plant-made pharmaceuticals.

  • KansasBio is a unified voice for the Kansas bioscience community representing the bioscience research to commercialization process; accelerating the growth of the human, animal, plant and industrial biosciences; enhancing the state's bioscience business and research climate; and encouraging and enabling the attraction and retention of bioscience talent and companies.

    SOURCES: KansasBio via PR Newswire; Ventria news release; Associate Press news reports.