Ventria Bioscience said today it has won a $4.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation toward the biomanufacturing of new therapeutics targeting enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC).

Ventria said the grant will enable it to develop its ExpressTec technology platform for producing potential ETEC treatments.

“This initiative aims to develop a new kind of oral treatment that could be delivered economically on a large scale for use in children or adults,” Ventria president and CEO Scott E. Deeter said in a statement.

ExpressTec is designed to produce recombinant proteins, small peptides, multi-subunit molecules, monoclonal antibodies, fusion proteins, and enzymes used in medicine and biotechnology. Instead of using a stainless steel bioreactor, ExpressTec proteins are manufactured within a growing plant using sunlight for an energy source and soil, water, and air as raw materials.

According to Ventria, ExpressTec offers several advantages compared to biomanufacturing with bacterial, yeast, and mammalian cell culture expression systems, transgenic animals, or purification from natural sources. These advantages include higher product yields, the absence of contamination from components of animal or human origin, reduced carbon footprint from the manufacturing process, a “dramatically” lower cost of production, and a broadly flexible platform.

Proteins produced through ExpressTec, Ventria adds, are free of animal, human, and bacterial contaminants; safer and more reliable than blood-derived products; and cost-effective.

“We have proven the effectiveness of our ExpressTec system for biomanufacturing synthetic colostrum proteins, such as lactoferrin and lysozyme,” Deeter added. “This new application in the global fight against ETEC adds to Ventria’s pipeline of projects with the potential to make a real difference in people’s health.” 

Doubling Production Capacity

Ventria’s grant from the Gates Foundation comes more than a month after the company broke ground on a $1.5 million, 3000-square-foot addition to its biomanufacturing and laboratory facilities that the company said would roughly double its recombinant protein production capacity.

Ventria is expanding its molecular biology lab, greenhouses, process development and analytical lab, and processing capacity in Junction City, KS, where the company is headquartered.

The grant also reflects one of the Foundation’s funding priorities—initiatives intended to help reach the goal of ending diarrheal disease deaths in children under 5 by 2030.

ETEC accounted for an estimated 157,000 deaths per year—9% of all deaths attributed to diarrhea and approximately 1% of all deaths in children 28 days to 5 years of age, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study.

The World Health Organization reported in 2006 that ETEC is the most common cause of diarrhea in the developing world, with an estimated 280 million to 400 million cases in children aged under 5 years and an additional 100 million episodes in children aged 5 to 14 years.

“ETEC infection cries out for an effective treatment that can be delivered on a large scale in areas struggling with poverty, and the Gates Foundation initiative brings hope to patients and societies afflicted by this disease,” added Ventria CMO Seymour Fein, M.D.

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