Olathe — The Kansas Bioscience Authority committed more than $1.6 million Tuesday to help companies expand or open operations in the state. One grant went to HylaPharm, a Lawrence drug company led by two Kansas University professors.
The KBA board voted to award up to $1 million in funding to SynTech Research Laboratory Services to open a facility in Stilwell; $400,000 to PRA International to move a training program to its existing facility in Lenexa; and $200,000 to HylaPharm to help with the development of new cancer drugs.
Also approved was an investment whose details are being kept secret for now. Code-named "Project Gray," it was recommended by the KBA's Investment Committee last week. The recipient and the amount are under wraps for now because of commercial concerns expressed by the company, KBA officials said.
The grants awarded to SynTech and PRA are projected to help the companies create a total of about 170 new jobs.
SynTech, based in Davis, Calif., is a contract research organization that works with agricultural, biotechnology and food companies, as well as government agencies and agricultural commodity suppliers. The company is opening a new facility in Stilwell, which it expects to create about 103 new jobs with an average salary of $56,000. The KBA grant is staggered based on the number of jobs created, and SynTech will receive $1 million if it reaches the expected number.
In addition to creating jobs, KBA officials hope the company will spur further growth by working with other companies in Kansas' bioscience sector, said Keith Harrington, a commercialization director for the KBA.
The $400,000 grant to PRA, another contract research group, will help it relocate a program that recruits and trains new college graduates to assist with clinical trials. The company expects to create 70 new jobs with the program within a year.
And the $200,000 investment awarded to HylaPharm will help the company perform animal studies of a potential new cancer-fighting technology.
The Lawrence-based company is led by Laird Forrest, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at KU, and Dan Aires, a professor of dermatology at the KU Medical Center. They have developed a proprietary technology to use existing materials to treat cancer, according to Tom Krol, a KBA commercialization director. Their treatment could help attack tumors with reduced side effects for the rest of the body. After they undergo studies on animals, clinical studies on humans could follow.
Tuesday's KBA board meeting was the first for president and CEO Duane Cantrell, who was hired in November. During a discussion of the KBA's communications, Cantrell told board members he expects to be the sole representative of the state-funded authority in dealings with the Kansas Legislature. It's important for the KBA's public messages to be clear, he said.
"We're in a critical time," Cantrell said.
An audit released last year, called for by state Sen. Susan Wagle (now Senate president) and Gov. Sam Brownback, criticized some activities of previous head of the KBA Tom Thornton.