Biotech, Medical Devices, and Life Sciences Sectors Strong Despite Economy
Economic downturn and health reform uncertainties can't keep the biotech, medical devices, and life sciences sectors down.
Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (Apr/May 10)
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Lively Life Sciences Clusters
Nearly every state chases biotech and pharmaceutical investments, and why not? The life sciences promise high-paying jobs and growth potential. Even with health care reform's uncertainties, big spending on health innovations is expected. Disregarding the downturn, the life sciences have been growing across the country.
• North Carolina has led the life sciences since it created the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in 1984. The state's biotech sector employs more than 50,000 people, and the state seeks to employ 125,000 biotech workers by 2023. The industry has grown faster in North Carolina than the national average, and the state's biotech sector has grown five times faster than private sector businesses. To keep up, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center launched a $10.4 million expansion last year.
• Massachusetts also invested in biotech early by building resources in the mid-1980s to support the growth of biotechnology and the life sciences. They include the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives. The latter has launched more than 50 companies. In 2008, the state launched a billion-dollar biotechnology science stimulus plan that included an investment fund and millions of dollars in tax incentives.
• Everything is big in California, especially the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. Biopharmaceuticals support more than half a million California jobs directly or indirectly. Northern California claims to host more life sciences companies than anywhere else, and those companies continued to grow research and development while the economy struggled, according to the 2009 Northern California Life Sciences Real Estate Survey. San Diego also hosts a biotech hub that is among the strongest U.S. magnets for the life sciences.
• New Jersey has one of the nation's largest clusters of biotech companies, numbering some 250 companies. Senator Robert Menendez supported the Therapeutic Discovery Project Tax Credit in the health care reform bill, and New Jersey's biotech firms may be among the beneficiaries. Cash-starved biotech companies say they'll be able to jumpstart research and innovation with the credit. Not all have been as fortunate as Soligenix, a New Jersey biotech startup that was able to find cash for drug development during the recession last year.
• Pittsburgh may have a long history in steel, but it also has a strong future in medical fields. Nearly 50 medical device companies have expanded or relocated in the area since 2002, including Philips Respironics and MEDRAD, two industry leaders. MEDRAD and a group of development organizations recently collaborated to attract California-based BeamOne, which is investing $9 million to launch a new electron beam medical device sterilization service center that will create 20 jobs. It's another piece of the critical mass in the region's medical device business, said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. "It supports an already strong medical device manufacturing sector by bringing required sterilization of their products closer to home."
• Oklahoma City is another up-and-coming biotech area. The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Presbyterian Health Foundation both have headquarters in the city. Together they provide research and development assistance to more than 50 companies and agencies, including more than 700,000 square feet of lab and office space. Last year, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation broke ground on an eight-story research tower, a $125 million "green" project topped by 24 helix-shaped wind turbines to power its labs. And the $75 million Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center will open this year. "We have an incredible amount of growth currently happening in the biotech sector," said Jill Harrison of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.