Burrill: Future Bio-Clusters Will Center Around Diseases, Not Locations
PHILADELPHIA – Tomorrow’s biotech centers will be defined not by where they arise but by which disease they exist to address, a pioneer investor in the life sciences industry told a conference focusing on the growth and future of clusters.
“We’re moving from the value of clusters, where capital and other assets were available locally, to a business of global enterprise,” said Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill and Co. “If you or I were to start a biotech enterprise today, we can start it in Dubai, we can start it in Bangladesh, we can start it here in Philadelphia or in San Francisco.
He spoke during the opening session of “Building Biotechnology: The Past, Present and Future of Biotechnology Clusters.” The conference was held April 19-20 by the Chemical Heritage Foundation at its headquarters here.
“We were successful largely by clustering in the Boston area and the [San Francisco] Bay area because there were things happening in clusters that were important,” Burrill said. “That’s not true today. You can start a biotech company anywhere in the world and succeed based on your ability to partner virtually with all the things that you need to do.”
In an interview with BRN following his hour-long talk and a Q&A session, Burrill elaborated. “Do we begin to see more virtual clusters created around the expertise in a disease like Parkinson’s or diabetes? The answer is yes. They probably are not going to be concentrated by geography but they are gong to be concentrated on a focus on a problem,” Burrill said. “You may get clusters around Alzheimer’s [disease] – a different set of clusters around a disease rather than geographically.”
That will hold true, Burrill predicted, even as state and local governments step up assistance to biotechs through tax breaks, venture funds, and other incentives – and even as biotech and pharma giants consolidate by snapping up smaller companies.
“Is that a good investment of time and effort? It’s a fabulous investment of time and effort. But what you have to recognize is you are competing against other areas that are trying to do the same thing,” Burrill said. “Elements of success may be that we have lots of very successful companies, but we don’t have as many big, monolithic, blockbuster-sized companies.”
Emerging biotech clusters, he added, still have room for growth even in a period of consolidation since they are likely to generate new spinouts and startups. “I think there’s plenty of entrepreneurship, so I still think there’s still going to be plenty of companies.”
2002 Brookings Study to Be Updated; Will Scripps Florida Create Cash?
PHILADELPHIA – The economist who co-authored a 2002 report comparing 51 US regions on their commercialization and research opportunities is looking to update his widely quoted study, and said he continues to follow the topic “on a regular but intermittent basis.”
Joseph Cortright, vice president/economist with Impresa in Portland, Ore., co-authored “Signs of Life: The Growth of Biotechnology Centers in the U.S.,” a review of the US biotech industry issued by the Brookings Institution’s Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy five years ago.
“Ultimately, my plan is to update the Brookings piece. Brookings has first crack, but we haven’t sat down to set a timetable,” Cortright told BRN minutes after delivering the closing plenary presentation at “Building Biotechnology: The Past, Present and Future of Biotechnology Clusters.” The conference was held April 19-20 by the Chemical Heritage Foundation at its headquarters here.
During his presentation, Cortright offered one area the updated study will focus on: Florida’s effort under Gov. Charlie Crist and his predecessor, Jeb Bush, to catapult itself into a major biotech center through large subsidies, such as the $700 million promised by state and local officials to the Scripps Research Institute to build a three-building, 350,000-square-foot campus in Jupiter.
The campus is projected to cost $187 million and be completed in early 2009.
Florida’s award to Scripps, he noted, is about half of what San Diego’s cluster of biotech companies and institutions receive per year from NIH.
Scripps Florida has committed to hiring 545 people by 2011 and 2,800 by 2018. According to its Web site, it currently has 240 employees.
While Florida has publicly projected generating 50,000 new jobs from 500 new biotech firms it expects will be created over 15 years, Cortright said those numbers will be tough to achieve, and localities may not reap as much economic benefit from biotechs as they expect.
Scripps last November announced a five-year, $100 million deal granting Pfizer first right to license 47 percent of Scripps discoveries. The deal replaced a 10-year IP accord with Novartis that expired last year and was cited by Cortright.
“Even if they do come up with some breathtaking idea, it’s highly likely that it will get developed not locally but elsewhere,” Cortright said. “I think it’s likely that even if they’re successful in building a local research pipeline that it’s unlikely they will produce much commercialization.”
After his talk, Cortright offered advice to communities looking at basing their economic development efforts on biotech: “If you’re going to do it, you want to pick a place where you’re first, best or only.
“If you’re going to spend $100 million on this, what is it do you expect to get in return? Then what are other things you can spend your $100 million on? That’s really big money in the world of economic development, but it is chump change in the world of biotechnology,” Cortright added.
Cortright co-authored “Signs of Life” with Heike Mayer, now an assistant professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning program at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center.
NC Research Campus Marks Construction Milestones; Red Hat Pens Lease
Red Hat, the largest distributor of the Linux operating system, will lease between 2,000 and 20,000 square feet at the $1.5-billion North Carolina Research Campus planned for Kannapolis, NC, by Dole Food owner David Murdock.
The deal — whose exact size has not been decided — does not signify a retreat from Murdock’s vision of a new life sciences research hotspot near Charlotte, said Clyde Higgs, the research park’s vice president of business development.
“We’re trying to create an ecosystem for science and technology development, if you will, and Red Hat is going to be an important part of that,” Higgs said. “In getting all these brains on campus, it’s important for us to have a strategic tenant that can help facilitate conversation amongst these great minds. It’s really a strategic piece for us.”
Raleigh, NC-based Red Hat will operate within the campus’ 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building.
Red Hat’s planned move was announced at an April 18 event also held to mark two milestones in the campus’ development: A topping off for a new 125,000-square-foot University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute, and a groundbreaking for a 100,000-square-foot building to house North Carolina State University’s Institute of Fruit and Vegetable Science, as well as a new Dole Nutrition Institute.
UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State are two of seven universities that will carry out research on the campus. The others are Duke University, North Carolina Central University, UNC Charlotte, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and UNC Greensboro.
Partners in the campus include three community colleges: Central Piedmont, Gaston, and Rowan-Cabarrus.
Duke and UNC Charlotte will join Red Hat and Pelican Life Sciences, a maker of consumable products used in life science research, in the core building when it opens in January 2008. The other two buildings are set to open later next year.
Joining these institutions and businesses, developers hope, will be startup and established businesses. “We obviously want the more established companies here at the campus. But it’s critically important for us to have these nascent companies here. Ultimately this project is for North Carolina. Job creation is important for us, and the smaller companies are where the jobs are being created right now.”
The campus would include more than 300,000 square feet of retail space, a 120-room hotel, a 1,000-seat conference center, a new library and city government center, plus more than 700 housing units, including 400 single-family homes and 300 town homes and apartments.
Murdock said he hopes the conference center will draw more events like an April 16-17 conference on metabolomics and nutrigenomics held at the campus by UNC Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute.
“We’re really trying to create that live-work-play paradigm for the campus. A researcher that’s here can walk to work each morning,” Higgs said.
Roche Carolina Inc. to Expand Florence Manufacturing Facility
Roche Carolina Inc. announced last week that it will carry out a $60-million expansion of its Florence, SC, pharmaceutical manufacturing facility by constructing a new multi-purpose production unit in an existing building.
The expansion will create between 25 and 30 new jobs, and help Roche meet production needs for current and future medications, the company said.
Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-2007 with completion by the end of 2008. An estimated 200 construction-related jobs are projected, many of them through local contractors.
“The decision to invest in Florence is a reflection of our past success and the willingness of Florence and South Carolina to encourage the growth of existing industry," said Frank Cox, RCI’s president and general manager, in a statement.
RCI, a pharmaceutical process development and bulk active-ingredient manufacturing company, is an affiliate of Swiss life Sciences giant Roche Holding.
With $1.5M Grant, Rutgers Biotech Incubator Sees Year-End Opening
Rutgers University last week said it plans to complete a new biotech incubator within its Rutgers-Camden Technology Campus in time for startup businesses to start moving in by year’s end.
Plans for the 20,000-square-foot Biotech-Life Sciences Incubator advanced recently when the US Economic Development Administration – a division of the US Department of Commerce – awarded Rutgers a $1.5-million grant toward the $4.3-million project.
The grant will pay for constructing wet labs of about 800 square feet each, plus office and storage space. The incubator is projected to generate 255 new jobs and $17 million in private investment.
“We would like to be able to accept tenants by the end of calendar year 2007. That’s our goal,” Rutgers spokesman Mike Sepanic told BRN.
Sepanic said the university is pursuing both government grants and private funds for the remainder of the incubator cost: “We’re optimistic on the rest, but nothing has been confirmed.”
The incubator will try to promote collaborations with four New Jersey medical institutions: Camden-based Cooper University Hospital; the Coriell Institute for Medical Research in Camden; Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, which has campuses in Camden, New Brunswick and Piscataway; and Newark-based University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
“We plan on building [space for] 18 to 20 different life science companies so that they can expand and grow similar to our non life sciences companies under our business incubator roof,” said Peter Gold, CEO of the Rutgers-Camden Technology Campus and associate provost for economic initiatives at Rutgers-Camden.
The technology campus consists of another 20,000 square feet of office, lab and light manufacturing space offered at a market-rate price, with larger suites commanding higher prices. The RCTC is 100-percent occupied by 35 on-site companies and also serves 15 off-site “virtual” businesses. Combined, the businesses have 155 jobs and a payroll of $6 million.
“Fundamentally, there’s a dearth of wet labs for companies to use to commercialize science. This will sort of very much hit the target of fulfilling that need,” Gold added.
— Ben Butkus, editor of BioRegion News sister publication Biotech Transfer Week contribute to this report sister.
NYBA’s New Director ‘Tinkers’ With Lobbying, Web Site
The new executive director of the New York Biotechnology Association said his group will step up its lobbying for improved incentives and launch a new version of its Web site over the coming year.
The new lobbying and online efforts are among a series of initiatives NYBA plans to roll out over the next 12 months.
“New York state is in a very competitive situation for biotechnology. But New York has exquisite assets in place that really position us well, that make New York a center and a leader in the development of biotech going forward,” Tinker said.
In remarks delivered at NYBA’s annual conference April 10 at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel, and in a follow-up interview with BRN, Nathan Tinker said that the association will augment its membership services effort by recommitting itself to public policy — namely, pressing state and federal officials on issues of interest.
“I want to re-engage that in a real active fashion. And I think between our team in Albany and the team we’ve put together in Washington, we’ll be involved in the day to day conversation around not just biotech but various other policy initiatives – drug pricing, insurance regulation,” Tinker said. “All of that has significant impact on members doing business and we should be in that conversation.”
Other priorities for NYBA, he said, include communicating the importance of biotech to the Empire State, and international business development: “New York needs to be talking to the world.”
NYBA is also redesigning its Web site (http://www.nyba.org/) to allow for easier navigation, and to enable members to post ads. It is a couple of months away from re-launch, Tinker said.
Tinker took office earlier this year. He succeeds Karin Duncker, now a business development officer in the New York office of the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo.