The Sarnia Observer (November 26, 2014) – A biomedical research firm that plans to turn ginseng and other plant materials into a host of natural health products is set to put down roots in Sarnia in the new year.
Western Phytoceutica Inc. has signed a five-year lease to conduct research, development and commercialization into its potential line of products at the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
The research firm will occupy 1,000-square feet of laboratory space at the park and plans to use an additional 500-square-feet to develop a pilot plant.
Operations are set to begin in January.
Officials with the research park delivered the announcement during their annual update to Lambton County council Wednesday, capping off what they suggest has been a positive year for the park once left struggling after the closure of the NCO call centre.
Western Phytoceutica will be in particular a “nice fit” for the research park already home to bioindustrial research, said Tom Strifler, executive director of the research park.
“I believe [the biomedical industry is] growing and it's a trend that has been developing over the years,” he said after Wednesday's announcement.
Western Phytoceutica chose Sarnia's research park because of its available facilities, company founder Edmund Lui said when contacted Wednesday.
“They have the basic research, they also have pilot and they can also scale up, so it's a pretty logical progression,” said Lui, who is also an associate Western University professor and scientific director of the Ontario Ginseng Innovation & Research Consortium.
American ginseng will be the immediate subject of the company's efforts to develop natural health products, he noted.
But down the road, Lui can envision using other herbs, as well as fruits and vegetables, to make natural health products.
While ginseng has been used for medically for centuries, Lui said the company has developed a scientific method – an “advanced delivery system” – to standardize its line of products in order to ensure effectiveness.
“Ginseng is the king of the herbs because it has multiple applications,” he added.
Research has shown ginseng has beneficial impacts on cardiovascular health and diabetes through to erectile dysfunction and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, he noted.
If a full-scale plant is developed down the road, Lui said he imagines there will be jobs that need to be filled, but in the meantime, he foresees Lambton College students filling work-study positions.
The addition of Western Phytoceutica now brings Sarnia's research park to a 97% occupancy rate.
In 2012, the 80-acre research park hit an all-time low of 40% occupancy, triggering its board to ask for a $2.5 million line of credit from the county.
“We're essentially now full and we're full with the right kind of tenants which is good news,” Strifler said.
By next spring, Sarnia's research park will finally be able after 13 years of its existence to cover all its expenses with its revenue, noted John Innes, the county's general manager of finance.
That milestone is an “achievement that we shouldn't lose sight of,” he noted, pointing out London's research park took 22 years to break even.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley commended research park officials for the turnaround in operations.
Earlier this year, the Atelka call centre opened its doors at the research park, creating 200 new jobs in the community.
The Canadian company has recently expanded its Sarnia operations, adding on another 200 positions.
“The vision of the park is very clear and you can see jobs being created in the community,” Bradley said.
- Barbara Simpson, Sarnia Observer