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High hopes seen for biotechnology pact

ISU, South Korea deal has potential

Associated Press

DES MOINES -- Officials are hoping a research agreement between Iowa State University and one of South Korea's largest biotechnology companies will lure other biotech businesses to Iowa.

The agreement between ISU and Cheil Jaedang Corp. will bring two South Korean scientists to the university.

Economic development officials are hoping it also will show Asian biotechnology firms that Iowa is a state they can develop, manufacture and sell products -- maybe even prompting the formation of a biotechnology complex.

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Cheil Jaedang Corp. makes products ranging from animal feed and pharmaceuticals to cosmetics and household products.

The company is one of the largest biotech companies in Asia, economic development officials said.

The research agreement "sends a very strong message to every biotech company in Asia that there is a reason to look at Iowa, and there's a reason to look at Iowa State," said Michael Blouin, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

State economic development officials and business leaders in the Des Moines area have worked for two years trying to persuade South Korea to build its American biotechnology hub in central Iowa.

The South Korean government could take up to another year to determine where that complex will be located, Blouin said.

Jim Bloedel, vice provost for research and advanced studies at Iowa State, said the work between ISU and Cheil Jaedang Corp. could include plant and animal genetic research.

Blouin and Bloedel said that four new South Korean biotech companies have expressed interest in moving to Iowa State University's research park.

A cluster of biotechnology businesses creates the "synergy that ultimately leads to the home runs that you hope for," Blouin said.

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Establishing such a center in Iowa would create a tremendous potential for new jobs, Blouin said.

Key to helping the emerging companies make their way to Iowa is passage of the proposed Iowa Values Fund, which would make up to $810 million available for economic development, Gov. Tom Vilsack said in a news release last week.

"With the infrastructure we already have in place at the research facilities available at our world-renown universities, and with the commitment to the future of those facilities that the Iowa Values Fund would allow, Iowa is poised to attract biotech companies ... from around the world," he said.

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