Tobacco monies to aid biopharmaceutical study
CHATHAM -- The group handling Virginia's portion of the national tobacco settlement money said it will make a loan to a partnership that is developing alternative uses for tobacco but has not yet determined how much.
Tobio LLC and CropTech Corp. asked the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission's special projects committee yesterday for an $8 million low-interest loan to cover research and development costs. The partnership plans to provide tobacco for uses in the biopharmaceutical and industrial enzyme markets.
Committee members said they want to help but asked for cash-flow charts outlining financial needs.
CropTech maintains genetically engineered tobacco may provide an efficient means to manufacture protein products at the scale and cost that will be required for many biopharmaceutical applications, such as treating blood disorders and cancer. The tobacco will contain genes not native to tobacco, known in the industry as "transgenic tobacco."
Tobio, meanwhile, will be developing production processes for CropTech and supplying raw materials.
The partnership is one of a handful of operations trying to develop tobacco and other plants for use in the biopharmaceutical
market. Both companies will be involved in the large-scale development, harvesting and transporting of transgenic tobacco.
"Everybody wants [to get their] product to market first," said state Sen. William C. Wampler Jr., a Bristol Republican and a committee member. "I hope it works. Our growers need it."
Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, a Pittsylvania Republican who is the commission's chairman, agreed.
"I think this is a leap of faith on our part to a degree," he said. "With the situation taking place in this country, if we don't look at something to stabilize the farm then the family farm as we know it will cease to exist."
Chris Cook, president and chief executive officer of Tobio, said transgenic tobacco has the potential to replace the total number of acres currently grown for traditional uses.
"It will keep the tobacco farmers down on the farm where they belong," Cook said. "With this venture, profits are going to stay where they belong: in local communities."
The partnership's board of directors is made up of Virginians, and the company plans to work with Virginia farmers and eventually place manufacturing operations across Southside and Southwest Virginia.