The Bluegrass Region has acquired a niche within the plant and genetic engineering segment of the life sciences industry, and many area companies are creating valuable pharmaceuticals, including Alltech, Naprogenix, ParaTechs Corporation, MosquitoMate, Evolva, Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals, and Hera BioLabs.
Alltech is a top ten animal health company founded in Lexington, with biosciences centers in the U.S. and Ireland, offices and distributors in more than 120 countries, and nearly 100 production facilities globally. Alltech’s $200 million algae production facility in Winchester is one of the largest algae production facilities in the world and was so successful that Alltech expanded to a second facility in Brazil. Algae are expected to become a crucial area of development as the United States pursues renewable sources of energy to power the country in the coming decades. Locally, the company is known for its award-winning line of beers and spirits with a brewery and distillery in downtown Lexington and, soon, in Pikeville.
Naprogenix is a startup biotech research company that derives compounds from native Kentucky plants to develop new technologies. Plants have a variety of uses in food and medicine and Naprogenix enhances specific bioactivity and qualities of native plants through genomics and molecular pharmacology to increase their usefulness to the pharmaceutical, health, and agrochemical industries. Naprogenix’s products are natural, giving the company a competitive advantage as consumers increasingly pull away from synthetic ingredients in both chemicals and medicines.
ParaTechs Corporation recently developed a bio-insecticide targeting corn earworm moths, the highest crop-damaging pest in North America and the second-highest worldwide. ParaTechs’s bio-insecticide is a mutated nudivirus, a sexually transmitted disease that sterilizes 100% of corn earworm moths it infects, compared to a 30% effectiveness rate when the nudivirus occurs in nature. In addition to increased effectiveness, ParaTechs’s bio-insecticide reduces the need for chemical pesticides and is unlikely to affect other species that do not mate with corn earworm moths.
MosquitoMate developed a biopesticide to reduce or eliminate Asian tiger and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes through sterilization. These pests carry several diseases that are harmful to people and animals, such as dengue, yellow fever, heartworm, West Nile virus, chikungunya fever, and the Zika virus. MosquitoMate infects male mosquitoes with a form of Walbachia bacteria and releases them to mate with females, who are permanently sterilized by the Walbachia. As a result, the next generation of mosquitoes is reduced and the spread of disease is prevented. MoquitoMate’s biopesticide is not transmitted to humans, animals, or other insects, and does not include chemicals or genetic modification.
Evolva, formerly Allylix, Inc., generates and isolates natural chemical compounds that are in high demand for pharmaceutical, agriculture, and flavor-and-fragrance industries. Evolva uses a reengineered version of the fermentation process to grow compounds in a way that is faster and more reliable that the traditional plant extraction process, and cheaper and less complicated than the chemical synthetization process. Evolva is developing a library of compounds that will make many previously unstudied compound samples available for research screening by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. These compounds can be used in the manufacturing of products such as foods, medicines, cosmetics, insecticides, and industrial cleaners.
Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals is a worldwide leader in genome engineering technologies and services with applications in therapeutics, research, drug discovery, bioproduction, clinical genetic testing, and agriculture. Transposagen specializes in genetic manipulation technologies, stem cell engineering services, and creating genetically modified laboratory rats.
Hera BioLabs Inc. is a Lexington-based Contract Research Organization (CRO) and a spinoff of Transposagen. Like Transposagen, Hera uses gene editing tools and services to manufacture genetically specialized products and services. In 2016, Hera announced an investment of $1.8 million to move its operations from its current location on the University of Kentucky campus and establish a new headquarters.
Many of these companies operate around the world and several were founded by University of Kentucky researchers.