|By TIM THORNBERRY
OWENSBORO, Ky. — Terms such as biotechnology and bioprocessing are foreign to many and downright science fiction to others, but Kentucky is well on its way to playing a major role in these emerging fields thanks in part to a new large-scale bioprocessing facility that opened in April.
Kentucky BioProcessing, LLC (KBP), is a contract bioprocessor with state-of-the-art facilities, which provide customers with a range of bioprocessing services, working with customers on a confidential basis to extract purified proteins and other value-added products from plants and other organic materials.
Owensboro Medical Health Systems (OMHS) is the owner of KBP and invested $6.4 million to purchase the manufacturing assets of Large Scale Biology, a company that developed and manufactured plant-made pharmaceutical proteins and vaccines, to form the new business and operate the facilities as a contract organization focusing on natural products and plant-made proteins.
While bioprocessing sounds new, it has long been present in various procedures such as leather tanning and brewing.
Bioprocessing is a way to use biological materials (organisms, cells, organelles, enzymes) for commercial, medical or scientific reasons.
According to the Washington State University’s Center for Integrated Biotechnology’s website, bioprocessing is “the oldest of the biotechnologies, and uses living cells or the molecular components of their manufacturing machinery to produce desired products. The living cells most commonly used are one-celled micro-organisms, such as yeast and bacteria; the biomolecular components used most often are enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze biochemical reactions.”
The site goes on to explain that “a form of bioprocessing, microbial fermentation, has been used for thousands of years - unwittingly - to brew beer, make wine, leaven bread and pickle foods. We now rely on the remarkably diverse manufacturing capability of naturally occurring microorganisms to provide us with products such as antibiotics, birth control pills, amino acids, vitamins, industrial solvents, pigments, pesticides and food-processing aids.”
While bioprocessing on the surface could be intimidating and complicated, agriculturally speaking, it means that familiar crops such as tobacco, corn and soybeans, to name a few, could be used in the development of products ranging from new medicines to more nutritious foods.
In 2004, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher assembled a 19-member consortium of state experts from science, business, government and education to detail the steps necessary to bring the state to the forefront of emerging scientific fields.
“The potential growth of these areas is simply staggering,” said Fletcher. “Between 1992 and 2003, the U.S. revenues for the biotechnology area alone grew from $8 billion to $39 billion, an increase of nearly five times. With the proper utilization of our existing strengths, we can significantly improve Kentucky’s participation in the life science industry.”
That industry consists of several different sectors that include pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, bio and health informatics, as well as services related to these areas. The Kentucky Agricultural Finance Corp. (KAFC) also sees the potential in the bioprocessing field and helped finance the project.
“I applaud OMHS for sharing my vision of Kentucky becoming a leader in plant made pharmaceuticals and their leadership in this emerging industry,” said Fletcher in a statement regarding the new facility. “I am also pleased the (KAFC) could assist in this project, as it will provide new opportunities for our farmers.”
While pharmaceutical companies could potentially be customers, Barry Bratcher, KBP’s chief operating officer emphasized that the company will have the capability to harvest a variety of products from various plants for many different uses.
“Basically, this facility is for the extraction of products from plants,” he said.
“All kinds of products can come from plants including dietary, vitamin and pharmaceutical products. We will provide companies with the material from host plants to make those types of products.”
One of the state’s most widely grown plants, generally not known for its positive benefits, could be of particular interest and use to the facility, Bratcher said.
“Tobacco could be considered the white rat of bioprocessing,” he said. “There is so much known about tobacco plants, and they serve as good hosts from which to extract products. The more weight a plant has, the more bioproducts can be extracted, and tobacco is a heavy plant.”
While the future of bioprocessing is yet to be seen, KBP plans to lead the way in Kentucky.
“This is the largest extraction plant (30,000 square feet) of its kind in the world and, like any other business, our success will be based on the value of our products,” said Bratcher. “People, like those at the Ag Development Board have a vision in pursuing this avenue and are trying to put Kentucky in a league all its own in helping to develop this facility.”
To learn more about KBP visit its website at www.kbpllc.com
This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.