Ventria looks for breakthrough plant-based drugs

FORT COLLINS — Ventria Bioscience is making a drug that CEO Scott Deeter hopes someday will generate several billion dollars in revenue.

There are, of course, a few hurdles first.

Ventria has developed a method to make proteins and store them in self-pollinating plants such as rice and barley. The company plans to use those proteins, developed affordably and on a large scale, in drugs for worldwide distribution.

“Many of the biotech medicines are not available on a global basis,” said Deeter, who was recently named a board member of the Colorado BioScience Association. “It’s really our vision to make biotech medicine more available on a global basis because of this technology.”

Established in 2001, the privately held drug company’s laboratories are located in the Rocky Mountain Innosphere in Fort Collins. Ventria maintains exclusive rights to more than 25 issued patents and is in the process of securing another 21 patents.

“They’re special because the material they use is plant-based, which is different from other companies that provide proteins for commercialization,” said Holli Riebel, president and CEO of the bioscience association.

Ventria is one of many in Colorado’s growing plant bioscience industry, which also makes fuel and agricultural products, she said.

Employing 28 people, Ventria also operates a division, InVitria, which creates cell culture products and is backed by venture capitalist Dave Dwyer of Boulder-based Vista Ventures.

Ventria recently completed a study of its flagship VEN100, a drug that consists of a protein found in breast milk that fights diarrhea caused by antibiotics in hospital patients, Deeter said. The study’s results were published in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea affects as many as 25 percent of patients and costs the U.S. health care industry $7.5 billion annually, he said. Antibiotics can treat the ailment, but no other drugs can prevent it.

The condition poses serious health risks, said Dr. William B. Greenough III, professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and the study’s lead author. Ventria and Johns Hopkins scientists, including Greenough, developed the drug using technology the company licensed from the University of California, Berkeley.

The condition especially affects elderly people and those with poor immune systems.

“(Antibiotic-associated diarrhea) is a significant cause of morbidity and death in this population, and we are currently without preventive options,” Greenough said. VEN100 “could have an important, positive impact on patient care.”

Ventria announced earlier this month that it successfully completed its phase two clinical trial of the medicine. During the trial, a team of investigators from Johns Hopkins found that VEN100 reduced the incidence of the infection by about 50 percent, according to the company.

The next step for the drug is a phase three clinical trial, which will test it in a larger population.

“It’s a multibillion-dollar revenue product that would be substantially larger than anything else we’re working on right now,” Deeter said.

Ventria scientists also are in the early stages of developing vaccinations for animals to prevent rabies and Lyme disease from spreading to humans. The company is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vector Borne Diseases in Fort Collins on the vaccines, using funding from the National Institutes of Health.

To prevent Lyme disease, scientists aim to vaccinate mice fed on by ticks.

The challenge will be to get mice to eat bait containing the vaccination.

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