Owensboro’s commitment to PMP’s and the life sciences is clear
by Madison C. Silvert
The story of how the plant-made pharmaceuticals (PMP) industry came to Owensboro, Ky., has been told before.
It was the story of how one company knew how to manipulate tobacco into growing desired proteins, but needed help from a tobacco company to figure out how to extract the protein. That tobacco company was located in Owensboro and the result was a new company, Large Scale Biology— a company that ultimately failed.
The story that has not been told is the story of how Owensboro created a system of supports to keep the industry alive following the collapse of Large Scale Biology, and how this network of supports will help Large Scale’s successor company, Kentucky BioProcessing, create an industry that, up until now, did not truly exist.
The Untold Story
In 2007, following the acquisition of the physical plant (and ultimately the intellectual property) of Large Scale Biology by Owensboro Medical Health System, the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) was in its first year of a new strategic plan. Dr. Nicholas Brake, GO-EDC’s new CEO, wanted to do things differently, and saw the potential in KBP and the PMP industry. Dr. Brake and the GO-EDC board saw this as an opportunity to not only support PMP’s, but also as an opportunity to support high-tech start-ups in general.
The Innovation Act of 2000 had created a successful network of Innovation and Commercialization Centers, under the leadership of the Office of the New Economy (now the Office of Commercialization and Innovation) and the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation. Remarkably, though one of Kentucky’s largest cities, Owensboro was not granted an office in the ICC network. This changed in 2007, first recognizing Owensboro’s eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation as a satellite office of the Western Kentucky University ICC, and now, as of July 1st of this year, the Owensboro office will have full status as an ICC. This provides better access to services needed by high-tech start-ups as well as a more direct line to the Commonwealth’s cadre of high-tech funds, including the Kentucky Enterprise Fund, the Commonwealth Seed Capital Fund, the unique SBIR/STTR matching fund, and the state’s High-Tech Pool fund.
But Owensboro did not stop with connections to the ICC network and the state’s funding infrastructure—it created a fund of its own. In 2008, the City of Owensboro decided to commit a significant portion of its dividend from Riverport operations to the eMerging Ventures Seed Fund, which is dedicated to high-tech start-ups. Though the investments from the eMerging Ventures Seed Fund tend to be small, it is often a company’s first investment dollar in the door.
Centre for Business and Research
Easily Owensboro’s biggest investment in PMP’s is the Centre for Business and Research. Opened in 2011, the 47,000 square foot business incubator is dedicated to the life sciences. The $2.5 million project was developed in consultation with scientists from KBP as well as the Owensboro Cancer Research Program. The facility, developed in a 100-year-old abandoned tobacco warehouse, boasts roughly 2,000 square feet of biosafety level 2 laboratory space and nearly $1 million worth of equipment.
The equipment, paid for by a generous contribution from the Daviess County Fiscal Court and a grant from the Economic Development Administration, includes, among other things, auto-sampling HPLC’s, a capillary electrophoresis, freezers, centrifuges and tissue culture and sanitization equipment.
This allows a life science start-up to greatly reduce its costs to start R&D, and provides them a place to work among other researchers and entrepreneurs. KBP will also have a space in the labs to help PMP developers better use and understand their unique manufacturing system.
Owensboro’s commitment to PMP’s and the life sciences is clear. With access to consulting and commercialization services, start-up capital, labs and equipment, Owensboro is poised to be the global center of the PMP revolution.
Madison C. Silvert is director of the Owensboro ICC and interim director of the Kentucky BioAlliance.
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