VOL. 116 | NO. 95 | Wednesday, May 15, 2002
State leaps forward in biotechnology surge
State leaps forward in biotechnology surge
By Sharon H. Fitzgerald
Special to the Daily News
Building a new industrial sector isnt a job states tackle often, but thats exactly what Tennessee is doing.This emerging job-creator is biotechnology, constructed on a statewide foundation of world-class medical research.
"Its very important as we move into the new economy that we work to expand the biotech industry and encourage the formation, growth and relocation of technology companies.
Tennessees science and technology assets will create the higher paying jobs and new business successes for our future," said Tony Grande, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner.
In late 2001, ECD launched the "Tennessee Means Technology" campaign, a new initiative designed to lure and nurture technology enterprises, including biotech. The initiative was announced in Memphis at the first meeting of Gov. Don Sundquists new Task Force on Biotechnology, yet another illustration of Tennessees commitment to biotech growth.
The task force is charged with submitting recommendations to the governor by July l, designed to help ensure biotechs future in the state. G. Robert Morris, a Memphis attorney who chairs the task force, sees biotechnology as "our ticket" in a new global economy that trades in intellectual capital.
With statewide talent, Tennessee is well equipped to succeed in its biotech quest. Vanderbilt University is a national research leader, and the Nashville region offers a superior array of health care services assets.
Neighboring Williamson County just announced the creation of a biomedical research facility, the Cool Springs Life Sciences Center. The $75 million project will be an industrial park focused on life sciences research and development for biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical-device companies.
Oak Ridge, Tenn., a high-technology bastion for more than 50 years, launched last year its Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development, designed to build a bridge between entrepreneurs and profit-potential ORNL research and patents in the biotech world.
And in Northeast Tennessee, a Med Tech corridor is forming to take full advantage of the regions abundant public and private sector biotech leaders, such as King Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline and East Tennessee State Universitys Quillen College of Medicine.
Power of Partnerships
"Biotech is on the move all across the state. There is particularly strong momentum in Memphis," Grande said.
"With all the research and development happening in Memphis, along with the citys distribution advantage, its become very evident to us that we need to begin to look at ways to leverage and commercialize it."
Grande points to technology corridors such as Californias Silicon Valley or high-tech regions in Boston and Maryland as models for Tennessees metro areas to follow.
"We have the same ingredients or more of many of these biotech centers," he said.
"Our challenge is to find ways to get the R&D into the private sector and marry it with venture capital and entrepreneurs so that we, too, can create from Memphis to Nashville to Oak Ridge to the Tri-Cities our own biotech corridors with new companies spun-out from Tennessee-based research."
A stop in that direction is the UT-Baptist Research Park in Memphis, an innovative re-use of the former Baptist Memorial Hospital, its adjacent facilities and acreage. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. is teaming up with the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center and the Memphis Biotech Foundation to establish a campus integrating research, teaching and biomedical development. UT and the Foundation should take ownership of the massive facility in March, when conversion of the 1.3 million square feet to laboratories will begin. Some of that room will be reserved as incubator space for small-company startups.
Steve Bares, Memphis Biotech Foundation president and executive director, said the UT-Baptist Research Park was "the cornerstone" of the Memphis biotech surge. In April 2001, the foundation was established by and is chaired by J.R. "Pitt" Hyde, a Memphis entrepreneur and philanthropist who recognizes the citys biotech potential.
The foundation works hand in hand with the Memphis Regional Chamber and the Memphis Area Technology Council to create a biotechnology community linking researchers to the private sector. The Tennessee Biotechnology Association does the same job on a statewide level.
"Statistics show that more than 80 percent of companies stay in the state in which they commercialize their technology. Thats a significant statistic," said Dennis Grimaud, TBA president.
"Youre not only keeping the technology and knowledge base here, you are then creating new jobs."
While the addition of the UT-Baptist Research Park is sure to boost Memphis biotech stock, the citys research component is already strong, with assets such as St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital and UT.
St. Jude is in the midst of a $1 billion expansion to dramatically augment its research on genetic and infectious diseases. Scientists began moving into a new, eight-story research building in January. That building will house a new Center for Infectious Defense in Children, a new Department of Chemical Biology and an expansion of St. Judes Immunology Department, led by Peter Doherty. Doherty won the 1996 Nobel Prize in medicine for his cell-based immune work.
Dr. Williams Evans, St. Jude director and executive vice president, says Dohertys Nobel Prize "basically said Memphis has scientists that are of the highest quality in the world. We knew that. We have outstanding scientists at St. Jude who have gotten major prizes for their work. There are outstanding scientists across the state. Yet a Nobel Prize is something thats heard around the world. It certainly makes it easier to recruit people in that kind of environment."
In November, St. Jude broke ground on a second building, a manufacturing facility for sophisticated medicines, vaccines and gene-therapy free agents. A master site plan for the campus in 2020 is in the works, and the next building will be a multifunctional research and patient-treatment center, Evans said.
He said St. Jude is "very supportive" of the UT-Baptist Research Park.
"You can envision the area between St. Jude and the University of Tennessee as housing a biotech zone. St. Jude could be one anchor and the university another."
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center brings to the table more than 1,000 faculty members and in excess of $65 million in research and training grants. In fact, UTs funding last year from the National Institutes of Health jumped 57 percent from the previous year, from $24 million to $37.6 million.
In October, UT announced one of the largest grants in the universitys history $12.7 million for genetic neurological research that involves a consortium of Tennessee researchers from UT, St. Jude, the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Meharry Medical College, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and East Tennessee State University.
While Memphis is one of Tennessees hot spots for biotech research, the entire state is in on the action.
"My competition is not Nashville and Oak Ridge. Theyre my partners. Im competing with 41 other states that want to grab onto this bio area. Our job in Tennessee is to work together and even with regional partners to make ourselves competitive. Thats the only way, I believe, were going to win," said Memphis Biotech Foundations Bares.
This story is one of the many articles highlighting Tennessee businesses, products and services provided by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.