“North Carolina has been very cognizant of the impact of regulatory burdens that can be placed on industry, and has been amending its regulatory codes to make sure they are optimized for the current economy and business environment.”
Could you introduce us to The North Carolina Biosciences Organization (NCBIO) and underline the role the association plays in North Carolina’s life sciences industry?
NCBIO is the trade association for the North Carolina (NC) life sciences industry. We represent the pharmaceutical, biologics, medical device, agricultural, biotechnology and contract research sectors within the state, and we are dedicated to promoting the future growth and development of North Carolina’s entire bioscience industry. We are primarily an advocacy organization that represents the industry before state and federal bodies, such as the North Carolina General Assembly and the North Carolina Delegation to Congress. Our aim is to motivate our legislators to build a policy environment that will encourage the growth of life science companies, support the development of a strong life science workforce and promote research and technology transfer at universities and other institutions.
Our sister organization – the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (Center) is a state-funded economic development entity devoted to the life sciences industry. They receive approximately US$12.5 million from the state per annum to develop and operate programs that will promote the economic development of the life sciences industry. The programs include research grants to universities, loan programs for startup life science companies and recruitment programs for larger companies that are identifying locations to expand their existing facilities or to establish new facilities. Moreover, they have a public affairs division that is devoted to telling the NC life sciences story across the globe. NCBIO and the Center work closely together to grow a successful life sciences community within the state.
North Carolina’s biotech cluster has increased by 31% since 2001. What have been the key factors driving this growth?
There are two components to NC’s life science community. Firstly, the smaller companies that are just launching, and secondly, a large group of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies. A key factor contributing to the growth and expansion of all these companies within the state is our extremely talented labor force and a strong cluster Tier 1 universities, which includes UNC Chapel Hill, NC State University and Duke University in the Research Triangle area. There is also a major biomedical hub in Winston-Salem, which is built around the Wake Forest University, and we also have a teaching hospital in Greenville that is associated with East Carolina University. From these universities, the state is constantly producing top intellectual talent that can contribute to the growth of the life sciences industry.
In the manufacturing sector, we have had significant success around an initiative, launched in 2005 geared towards building training and education facilities dedicated to the life sciences industry. The state invested approximately US$75 million in a three-part project with the aim of growing the region’s life sciences workforce, education and training capacity. The crown jewel of this initiative was the biotechnology training and education center at the NC State University, where they provide hands on experience to students and incumbent workers with commercial-scale biomanufacturing facilities, including fermentation and downstream filtration and purification. The facility operates a small simulated pilot scale manufacturing facility. The second element of the project was a US$20 million life science laboratory and undergraduate teaching facility at NC Central University, which has been very successful in the training of individuals that want to work in the drug discovery sector. Thirdly, approximately US$10 million was allocated to the community college system in NC for the purchase of equipment for biomanufacturing-related skills training and related curriculum development. Since the investment in the three-part project, we have seen a number of major pharmaceutical companies establish and expand their biomanufacturing facilities within the state including Merck, Novartis, Grifols, and Novo Nordisk. Feedback from these companies has highlighted that the state’s investment in education and training was critical in their decision to operate in NC.
Within the small company space, our Biotechnology Center is constantly making loans to small startup companies. The universities are also constantly innovating within the life sciences space, which is also a driving force for the evolution of the hub. Over the last three years, we have been fortunate to see the geographic footprint of the industry expand to both the East and the West of the state.
Apart from the collaborative emphasis of the Research Triangle, what are the key advantages for operating in NC?
NC has a low corporate tax rate as compared to most states in our country. The state has also been very cognizant of the impact of regulatory burdens that can be placed on industry, and has been amending its regulatory codes to make sure they are optimized for the current economy and business environment. North Carolina also offers an excellent quality of life, which is very appealing to the community.
What are the key challenges facing NC’s life sciences industry?
The biggest challenge that we face in North Carolina is our capital market. Relatively speaking, the market is thinly capitalized in terms of native venture firms. To address this challenge, our primary aim is to produce intellectual property that will attract the attention of out-of-state venture firms to encourage them to invest within state.
What role does NCBIO play as a lobbyist, both in Raleigh and Washington DC?
In North Carolina, the core of our efforts is to keep the life sciences community in the minds of the legislators and to remind them that the industry can assist in the economic development of the state, especially with respect to job creation. We have a focus on rural development and we spend a significant amount of time reminding people that the life sciences industry can help in uplifting all communities within the state. We are also concerned with drug pricing, and NCBIO aims to keep informing Congress of the large costs and expenses associated with drug development.
Could you provide a final message to our international readership?
North Carolina lives up to its reputation as a very strong competitor to the other major life science hubs, both nationally and internationally. We have an excellent workforce, business climate, quality of life, and institutions that all aid in the development and growth of the life sciences industry in the state.