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University-based life science the No. 1 growth priority, Ventas CEO says

Ventas Inc. is looking to grow its already expanded operations in the life science and innovation segment, and especially in university-based projects.

"We have a robust pipeline of high-quality investment opportunities with leading research institutions that should enable us to continue to expand this business, which we've already grown by 40% since inception," Chairman and CEO Debra Cafaro said on the company's second-quarter earnings call. "And it remains our No. 1 capital-allocation priority."

Two such projects have opened so far in 2018, and two more, one at Brown University and one at the University of Pennsylvania, are under construction. The company's operations in the segment generate about $134 million in annualized net operating income at present.

Cafaro said the company may pursue "incremental" investment in other arenas but its capital allocation focus will be directed toward university projects.

"That's our principal focus ... because we are seeing a really great pipeline with great credit in some of these leading university life science and innovation projects. ... There may be acquisitions if we find some that make sense and are value-creating. But our principal capital-allocation focus is in the life science [area] with leading universities, and we see great value creation there, that's why," she said.

To fund incremental investments, the company may sell assets, enter into joint ventures or "other things," Cafaro said, touting the company's low leverage.

"We have great liquidity, and so that obviously provides an asset that can be used to source capital for incremental investment activity as well," she said.