Located in the US’s Midwest, Missouri is home to some of world’s most fertile farmland. This means that not only does the state have some of the most productive farms in the world, but that it is also part of a region that encompasses the greatest single concentration of animal health activity in the world.

Consequently, Missouri has established itself as a leader in life sciences and biotechnology – not only for human and animal health, but for plants as well. The state is ranked number two in plant genomics funding from the National Sciences Foundation and number five in total life science funding.

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As a result, Missouri is a magnet for big-name companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Nestlé Purina Petcare, Covidien, Abengoa Bioenergy, Teva Neurosciences and Boehringer-Ingelheim Ventmedica, as well as world-class research institutions and universities such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Stowers Institute of Medical Research, Washington University, St Louis University, University of Missouri, Midwest Research Institute and the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Missouri is also a hub to leading agricultural and animal health associations such as the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the US Animal Health Association (USAHA). The USAHA relocated its headquarters in 2007 from Richmond, Virginia to St Joseph to be part of the Kansas City ‘animal health corridor’. Located between Columbia, Missouri and Manhattan, Kansas, this is the single largest concentration of animal health interests in the world.

Missouri has many advantages in attracting life sciences and biotechnology. Among them are its low cost structure, talented workforce and quality of life. Also critical are its technology transfer programmes; incubator and business start-up environment; and available venture capital. One thing is evident: the work coming out of Missouri has long-lasting implications as well as a global significance.

Accelerating developments

Anchored by St Louis, eastern Missouri is largely associated with strong activity in plant science. Scientists at Washington University are unlocking the genetic secrets of corn, an accomplishment that should accelerate developments of better crop varieties to meet growing demand for food, livestock feed and fuel.

This achievement dovetails with work at St Louis-based Monsanto, which has a huge presence in Missouri (see In Focus, page 71). “We are located within 500 miles [800 kilometres] of a major growing belt in the US,” says Monsanto spokesman Darrin Wallis.

Access to research coming out of Washington University and the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) is a particular advantage, along with the host of talent at other plant and life science establishments in the state. Monsanto has donated big chunks of intellectual property to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. It also donated $2m towards MU’s Life Science Business Incubator. “We work with MU in analysing the future of what agriculture might bring,” says Mr Wallis.

Not only does Monsanto’s reputation help it to hire highly talented and technical people from around the world, the company also benefits from Missouri’s Quality Jobs Act. This act lets companies claim state tax credits and retain the payroll taxes of newly hired employees who earn at least average wages and receive health benefits.

In addition, St Louis offers a good quality of life. “St Louis offers the culture of a big city without big city challenges,” says Mr Wallis. “Another plus – you can get anywhere in the city within 15 to 20 minutes.”

Nearby, the not-for-profit and heavily funded Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis seeks to enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, to increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in St Louis and throughout Missouri.

“As a metric of its quality research, the centre is awarded triple the national average in competitive grants and contracts per science research,” says Sam Fiorello, COO of Danforth Center.

Currently, the centre is focusing on cassava, a staple food for many people living in east Africa. The goal is to make cassava drought- and disease-resistant and nutrient-filled. Last year, the centre received a five-year, $2.5m grant from the US Agency for International Development to support cassava’s development phase. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also provided $1.3m to fund research.

The centre is also home to the $25m Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels. Here, efforts centre on speeding up the development of plant-based renewable biofuels.

“We are especially looking at algae as an alternative to deliver fuel instead of oil,” says Mr Fiorello. “It can be refined as jet fuel.”

The Danforth Center also enjoys a strong international presence. It employs scientists from 26 countries and has collaborations with educational and research institutes in Africa, China, India and Latin America.

“Today, we are at the conflux of some global macroeconomic trends,” says Mr Fiorello. “We are building on our strengths in creating a place that is powerful and forward-looking,” he adds.

On the western side of the state, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research aspires to be one of the world’s most innovative biomedical research organisations. Jim and Virginia Stowers, cancer survivors and founders of American Century Investments, dedicated their fortune to supporting the institute’s basic research in the hope that it will point the way to long-term solutions for gene-based diseases.

Today, more than 500 people are working there on 24 independent research programmes. Located on a four-hectare campus, Stowers operates as the second largest medical foundation in the US behind Harvard University.

University contributions

In the middle of the state, MU researchers on the Columbia campus are actively mapping the genetic genome of maize. MU achieved this feat on soybeans, a critical crop for protein and oil. Soybeans represent a $30bn industry in the US and a growth area for biodiesel.

Other contributions that MU is making to life science research are coming from its University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR), a 10-megawatt facility, and the highest-powered university reactor in the US.

MURR operates seven days a week, 52 weeks a year and generates about 80% of its own funding. It is a leader in radiopharmaceutical research, trace element epidemiology, boron neutron capture therapy and radioisotope tracer technology. Besides research, MURR has a radiopharmaceutical research group that focuses on developing radioisotopes for use in detecting and treating cancer and other chronic human diseases.

“In 2009, MURR shipped 35 isotopes for different products to 16 countries,” says Ralph Butler, MURR centre director. “This is unique for a university reactor, but we understand production needs and shipping. We know how to support clinical trials.”

Also making MURR stand out is its part ownership of commercial entity Essential Isotopes. Together they focus on delivering cyclotron-produced isotopes to hospitals in the region for implementation and research use.

Meanwhile, at the Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology in St Louis, Randall J Bateman, managing director, and colleagues at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) are unveiling the origins of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH) fund the research we do here in the lab,” says Mr Bateman. “More specifically, the National Institute of Aging (NIA) funds the ADRC and also the Institute of Clinical and Transitional Scientists, another large effort that is supported here.”

Washington University ADRC is one of 30 centres funded and supported by NIA.

It is considered the leader in the US.

The centre and its memory and ageing project are at the forefront of a worldwide effort to uncover key to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, with a goal of developing more effective treatments and an eventual cure.

In addition, the university’s Office of Technology Management (OTM) assists members of Washington University in transferring technology to private companies. OTM manages a wide variety of intellectual properties arising from research programmes throughout the university. Areas addressed range from patents, copyrights, know-how and proprietary materials to assisting faculty with consulting agreements and research contracts.

OTM helped license technology to C2N Diagnostics, a company co-founded by Mr Bateman and another prominent researcher. The technology was developed while working on a neurodegenerative disease study paid for by Eli Lilly. The company resides at the Center for Emerging Technologies in St Louis. LifeTech Research, Inc of Baltimore, Maryland, is leading the company’s commercialisation efforts.

Although C2N Diagnostics is only a start-up, this example demonstrates the ease in which research can lead to commercialisation and how in Missouri, licensing remains with the scientists, not the university.

Important services

Although largely associated with major work in animal health, western Missouri is also home to scientific research and laboratory entity Midwest Research Institute (MRI), a not-for-profit organisation based in Kansas City.

MRI provides important consulting and evaluation services for government, industry and academia in 33,500 square metres (sq m) of laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation and large inventories of field equipment.

MRI, which also has facilities in Florida, Virginia and Maryland, works unbiased in the areas of national security and defence, energy and environment, life sciences, food and agriculture, and transportation safety. It also operates and manages the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, for the US Department of Energy.

“Our work changes depending on the emphasis of importance at the national level,” says John Stanley, MRI group vice-president for business development.

Of key importance are MRI’s relationships with agencies such as the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority, NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. MRI also effectively uses consulting organisations that have networks within the government.

“These enable us to identify and target key opportunities and procurements that support our research areas,” says Dr Thomas Sack, senior vice-president and director of technical operations.

“We have excellent undergraduate and graduate programmes in the Midwest within the universities, but even more so within the regional universities and private liberal arts universities that supply a large number of our staff,” says Mr Sack. MRI is currently undergoing research on algae and its use as jet fuel.

Growth offerings 

A number of significant expansions are occurring around Missouri, which indicates the state’s continuing strength in life sciences. Such commitments promise to leapfrog research efforts into commercialisation to provide global benefit.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, for one, is in partnership with for-profit Wexford Science+Technology of Maryland to construct a three-building, 42,000 sq m campus known as the Bio-Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park. Its goal is to support the needs of start-up life science companies.

“With the new research park on our property, it will allow our scientists and facilities to more directly support the needs of entrepreneurs,” says Mr Fiorello.

Building I, a $36.1m, 11,000 sq m multi-tenant facility, offers post-incubation, wet laboratory and office space. Completed in June 2009, it is already two-thirds full despite the current economic uncertainty. Construction was supported by $1m in State of Missouri tax credits, made possible by a $2m contribution to the Missouri Development Finance Board by Wexford to secure the credits. St Louis County, the City of Creve Coeur and the Ladue City School District also played a role.

Among its tenants is start-up company Divergents, which benefits from technology transfer from Washington University’s genome sequencing project. “I believe it is poised to be a major player in the crop protection industry,” says Mr Fiorello.

One of the most striking features at BRDG Park is the classroom and laboratory space designed for St Louis Community College. As the largest community college in Missouri and one of the largest two-year colleges in the nation, St Louis Community College’s bio-technician training programme has been recognised for excellence by the Missouri Biotechnology Industry Organization (MOBIO).

Other real estate offerings include MU’s Life Science Business Incubator at Monsanto Place in Columbia. It provides 3000 sq m of wet laboratory, dry laboratory and engineering suites for growth-oriented companies. Within three months of opening last year, it was nearly fully leased.

“We had projected it would be full by September 2010,” says MIC president and CEO Jake Halliday.

The facility is owned by MU and operated by the Missouri Innovation Center (MIC), which also operates the incubation programme. It is open to all start-up enterprises with a technology-based product or service.

Money for the $9m building was provided by the university, a federal grant and private donations, including $2m from Monsanto. For its donation, Monsanto was eligible for a 50% Missouri tax credit under the State of Missouri Small Business Incubator Tax Credit Program.

“This made it possible for Monsanto to increase its donation from $1m to $2m,” says Kelly P Gillespie, executive director of MOBIO.

Plans call for a second phase with an additional 3700 sq m of space.

Among the companies operating in the incubator are Pet-Screen, a UK-based pet diagnostic company, and Equinosis, which manufactures its Lamesness Locator, a sensor and computer software that tests for lameness in horses.

Pet-Screen selected the incubator because of linkage with MU and the strength of MU’s veterinary school. Equinosis was attracted because of Centennial Investors, a Columbia-based, 53-member angel investor network at the incubator that offers seed-capital for tenants.

Overall, MIC works with about 30 to 50 companies annually to attract them to this and other MU incubator facilities. Typically, MIC succeeds with about 12 companies a year.

“By mid-year last year, however, we had 28 new clients, despite the economic downturn,” says Mr Halliday. “Since January 1, we have had over 20 new clients.”

Start-ups are attracted to Columbia for collaborative opportunities with MU, says Mr Halliday. “Here they can get more attention from an institution with world-class facilities,” he says. Another is the ability to set up quickly. “We offer turnkey incubator space, plus I help people with other soft services, such as helping acquire visas for those from other countries,” he adds.

Other options exist for companies ready to jump into larger ‘accelerator’ space. One such option is Discovery Ridge, an exclusive university research park dedicated to companies desiring proximity to MU research. Started approximately four years ago, Discovery Park is now home to pharmaceutical company Analytical Bio-Chemistry Laboratories and the Research Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. To encourage clustering, the park is being expanded from 43 hectares to 223 hectares.

“We believe Discovery Ridge will grow like Missouri Research Park (MRP) in St Charles,” says Michael Nichols, vice-president for research and economic development, University of Missouri. That 1,200,000 sq m park is nearly filled. Novis International, which produces animal nutrition and health products, relocated its headquarters to MRP in 2007.

IN FOCUS

Monsanto’s long legacy

Monsanto has a long legacy in the St Louis region. It was here that it created aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in soft drinks. Now a biotech and plant life concern, Monsanto’s first biotech product, roundup ready Soybeans, came onto the market in 1996. Today it operates as an $11m-plus company. “We help farmers grow yield sustainability so they can successfully produce healthier foods, better animal feeds and more fibre while also reducing agriculture's impact on our environment,” says Monsanto spokesman Darrin Wallis.

Monsanto bases much of its work outside of St Louis in creve coeur. There, its 203-hectare campus is its biotechnology research hub, with 2100 employees engaged in research to create seeds that can double their production by 2030.

Monsanto maintains another campus nearby in Chesterfield. The company built the campus in the 1980s when it first began investing heavily in biotechnology. Back then it was the largest research project under construction in the state. Although the Chesterfield campus later came under the ownership of Pfizer, Monsanto is now purchasing back the campus for about $5m. Monsanto executives believe the company can increase its biotech business more than any other in the sector. Monsanto’s work begins in various r&d pipelines that involve corn, cotton, soybeans, vegetables and specialty crops.

The company, which also focuses on nutrition, chemistry and collaborations with other companies throughout the world, spends on average $2.6m a day on R&D – nearly $1bn a year. “This enables the company to develop one of the most robust pipelines of products in the industry,” says Mr. Wallis.

The cost of this report was underwritten by Missouri Partnership, with support from Missouri Biotechnology Association. Reporting was carried out independently by fDi