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Where Have All the Role Models Gone?

Within every industry, there's an Apple or a GE, says Luke Timmerman at Xconomy"anchors" or "models of success" that other companies in that industry look up to. In biotech, that role has been filled by companies like Genentech and Genzyme, Timmerman adds, but because of buyouts and mergers in almost every regional cluster, the industry is losing its anchors. "The health of regional biotech clusters in the US is usually measured by empirical metrics like federal grant funding, patents, venture capital investments, number of companies, revenues, and stock market valuations," he says. "All of those things matter. But I'm also a believer that there are intangibles to regional success, the kinds of things those measurements can't capture. One of these intangibles is that every thriving US biotech hub needs an 'anchor tenant.'"

An anchor tenant, as Timmerman defines it, is a company that employs a lot of people, provides good wages, is independent, is profitable, and has a diverse range of products. "It provides a success template for little companies to follow," he says.

At In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe says that taking such anchor companies out of certain regions can bring biotech to a halt if there isn't a strong enough biotech culture there to fill in the gaps. However, he adds, he's "skeptical" of attempts to artificially induce such biotech clusters to form around a given company. "It's not that I don't think more research hot spots would be a bad thing, of course — just the opposite," Lowe says. "It's just that I don't know how you achieve that result."

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