City and university officials have announced that Orion Integrated Biosciences, Larchmont, New York, has opened a new office in Manhattan to work more closely with Kansas State University scientists and capitalize on the future opening of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF.
The announcement was made Tuesday at the NBAF Summit, a two-day meeting to update livestock producers and the animal health industry on science and security related to the new laboratory.
Orion Integrated Biosciences founder and CEO Willy Valdivia said that moving his company’s operations to Manhattan helps it respond to “cycles of innovation that must happen very quickly.”
Orion’s office will be in the Manhattan/Kansas State University Innovation Center, a part of the Kansas State University Research Park. Initially, the company is moving two employees to Manhattan. Valdivia said Orion hopes to expand in the future as the company strengthens development in diagnostics and vaccines.
As a biodefense company, Orion specializes in applying computer technology to manage large sets of genomic data. The company gathers, stores, integrates and analyzes data to identify patterns that can be applied to a new generation of agro-defense countermeasures, according to Valdivia.
More information about the company can be found at orionbio.com.
“There is significant potential for a small business like ours to interact closely with a university, given the specific capabilities we have,” Valdivia said. “This is a strategic move for our company because of Kansas State University and where NBAF is being built.”
Since 2009, Orion Integrated Biosciences has had a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD, which is housed in Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“CEEZAD has worked with Orion personnel to focus their bioinformatics expertise toward applications that are most critical to the Department of Homeland Security’s mission, such as vaccines and detection tools,” said Juergen Richt, director of the federal project and Regents distinguished professor at Kansas State University. “The close proximity of Orion to CEEZAD and the adjacent Biosecurity Research Institute at K-State will facilitate the testing of restricted-use samples with Orion equipment and bioinformatics technology.”
Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, hailed the move as a boost for the local economy.
“The attraction of Orion Integrated Biosciences to Manhattan represents another win for our shared university/community economic development strategy to leverage NBAF and Kansas State University to create high-pay, knowledge-based jobs and grow the regional economy,” he said.
In recent years, the Veterinary and Biomedical Research Center moved its operations to Pottawatomie County to be closer to Kansas State University scientists and ultimately NBAF. At the time, company president Kelly Lechtenberg said that over five years, his company hoped to create 18 new positions with an average salary of $65,000 and approximately $10 million in new capital investment in Kansas.
Tammy Beckham, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, said having a company like Orion nearby enhances opportunities for faculty to work in areas such as antimicrobial research, pathogen detection, diagnostic medicine, and animal health and welfare.
“Having Orion Integrated Biosciences in close proximity also provides us the opportunity to integrate our students with private companies and allows them to gain that experience as part of their education,” she said.
Orion’s current projects are funded by the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Defense, and by the National Institutes of Health. The company has agreements with the Army and Navy to develop technologies that will protect military personnel deployed to environments where infectious diseases are endemic.
Valdivia said his company is moving toward developing physical devices, such as battery-operated, hand-held sensors that can detect pathogens. Research and development work on those types of projects is being done with CEEZAD as well as partners in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Ukraine, Sierra Leone, New Zealand, Brazil and Colombia.
“We do hope that by moving to Manhattan and that our collaboration here will bring more projects in, more opportunities for licensing new findings,” Valdivia said. “We are at a stage where we can grow more. Kansas, Kansas State University and NBAF open many opportunities for us. This will be a very successful collaboration.”
The north end of Kansas State University’s Manhattan campus is known as the Bio-Agro Science and Innovation Corridor, or BASIC, and is intended to encourage government, industry and university partnerships to develop solutions for biological and agricultural challenges. NBAF, which will be at the center of activity in that area, is the Department of Homeland Security’s leading animal disease research facility. The $1.25 billion laboratory will help scientists protect animal and public health by conducting research and developing response and diagnostic capabilities for major zoonotic diseases, or those that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
In 2009, a site adjacent to the Manhattan campus was chosen for the new lab, which will replace an aging federal facility at Plum Island, New York. NBAF construction began in 2015 and is targeted for completion in 2023.