The Economic Promise of Biotechnology
By Debra Miller, CSG Director of Health Policy
Even as overall private-sector employment fell by 0.7 percent during the Great Recession, jobs in the life sciences grew by 1.4 percent, according to the latest state-of-the-industry study released last summer.
Overall, the field of life sciences, which includes pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, gained 19,000 jobs in 2008, according to the report released by Battelle Memorial Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, known as BIO.
“When I got involved in the bioscience industry in the early 1990s, I was counseled with the words, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’” Mitchell Horowitz, vice president of Battelle’s Technology Partnership Practice, said in a press release after the report was released. “In some ways it’s a marathon: You’ve got to get the fundamentals right. You’ve got to be in it for the long term. But when I look at this sector, in some ways it’s a sprint now. We really are growing. It’s generating big job numbers. It’s high quality jobs. It’s growing through the first year of the recession. How many sectors can say that?”
Life sciences are a diverse group of industries and activities with a common link—they apply knowledge of the way in which plants, animals and humans function. Four sectors make up the industry: drugs and pharmaceuticals; medical devices and equipment; agricultural biology and chemistry, and research, testing and medical labs. Tens of thousands of companies, big and small, and more than 1 million employees are involved in this field.
States across the country want to get a piece of the action that already thrives in California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle area. Pete Pellerito, vice president for State Government Relations and Alliance Development at BIO, has a long history of working with universities and states to develop biotechnology and other life sciences. The more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations that are members of his organization face a number of challenges in today’s economic climate, Pellerito said.
States and the policies they adopt can help ensure companies stay in place and thrive, as well as attract new companies. He said state policies influence five important building blocks: capital, human resources, intellectual property, facilities, and other business climate support mechanisms.
“The biotech sector can’t do it alone,” Pellerito said. “We need a common vision among policymakers, research universities and industry.”
Massachusetts Rep. Alice Wolf understands how state policy decisions can help businesses succeed. Wolf has supported a program in her district’s community college that certifies people to enter the biotech industry at entry-level positions. She has been told the income level of graduates goes up by about $10,000 a year.
“The biotech industry is changing from its traditional research focus to a broader set of activities, such as manufacturing and marketing,” Wolf said. “We need to develop the workforce for these new jobs at every stage, from entry level to more advanced, and we need to complement existing bachelor of science and Ph.D. programs.”
Pellerito will be a featured presenter during the CSG Growth and Prosperity Virtual Summit 2.0. He will lead off the panel, “Encouraging American Innovation & Competing in a Global Economy—Health Care,” at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 13. The other speakers will be Dr. Christine Grygon, head of Boehringer Ingelheim’s Partnering in the Business Development and Licensing group, and Chad Cornell, vice president of Medtronic Business Development.
Grygon is an inventor on five patents and an author of more than 23 peer-reviewed scientific publications. She was a 2008 finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council Women of Innovation, Research Innovation and Leadership Award.
As a 125-year-old family-owned company, Boehringer Ingelheim has remained focused on furthering science to benefit the health of patients and their families. Grygon will talk about the many factors that influence a technology company’s decision-making about the direction of their research and development as well as locating the company’s facilities.
“Bringing life-saving innovations to patients is not just about money—it’s about protecting intellectual property, protecting the high-skill, high-wage jobs that enable new discoveries, and a deep understanding of how these aspects need to come together,” said Grygon. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., based in Ridgefield, Conn., is the largest U.S. subsidiary of Boehringer Ingelheim Corporation.
Cornell is Medtronic’s vice president of business development and will discuss state policies and other contextual issues that encourage potential investments by companies such as his. Medtronic has in recent years made an effort to invest in startup med-tech companies as a way to gain access to the best innovations.