The idea seems remarkably simple: wedge a 10-square-mile corporate park in the middle of a triangle of top-notch research universities — NC State in Raleigh, Duke in Durham, and UNC in Chapel Hill — and spark a technology boom. That’s what the state of North Carolina did more than 40 years ago, and today it ranks number five in the country among biotech hotbeds. Not bad for a state once known primarily for its history, hogs, and tobacco.
It was in the early 1980s, eight decades after North Carolina was home to the first flight, that the state’s biotech industry took off.
“We were the very first state-funded economic development group to be formed to focus on biotechnology,” says Ken Tindall, senior VP of science and business development of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. These days NC is focusing attention on genomics: late last year it launched the North Carolina Genomics and Bioinformatics Consortium. “The question is how much biotechnology is not using genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics,” says Tindall, who is also the consortium’s director.
Lifestyle is the number-one advantage cited by those in the genomics industry who work and live in North Carolina. What the state lacks in nightlife and cosmopolitan feel compared to, say, Boston or the Bay Area, it makes up in quality of life. “It’s a good place to buy yourself a house and raise a family,” says Alois Schneiderbauer, president of the US subsidiary of German genomic company MWG Biotech, located about an hour’s drive from the Triangle in High Point.
In this special supplement on the Tar Heel State, we’ve put together some facts and stats about life in the Triangle (page S4). We’ve also included a state map to illustrate the breadth and concentration of businesses that have joined the Genomics and Bioinformatics Consortium (page S6). Former Governor Jim Hunt will tell you why NC is the perfect place to locate your genomic startup (page S8), and VC Art Pappas explains how academia and business can work together to take technologies out of the lab and into the market (page S14). And finally, we take you inside one of the local bioinformatics startups (page S10).