Biomedical Business & Technology Executive Editor
Charles Craig, president of Georgia Bio (Atlanta), has been involved with the life sciences industry for 10 years, most recently as author and editor of Ernst & Young's Global Biotechnology Reports. He was responsible for production of publications tracking the progress of the life sciences industry in the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific. He introduced Ernst & Young's first Global Biotechnology Report in 2002 and its first Asia-Pacific Biotechnology Report in 2004. Craig also was a member of Ernst & Young's Global Health Sciences Center for Industry Change, assisting clients in strategic planning.
Before joining Ernst & Young, Craig was director of publications for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO; Washington), the national association in the U.S. representing the life sciences industry. He was involved in all aspects of BIOs activities in behalf of life sciences companies.
Prior to his time with BIO, Craig was executive editor, managing editor and staff writer for the BioWorld Publishing Group in Atlanta, which includes BioWorld Today, a sister publication of Biomedical Business & Technology reporting on the biotechnology industry. He has a bachelor of arts from the University of Virginia and a master's in journalism from Louisiana State University.
BB&T: The annual convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization will be held in Atlanta in May. Obviously, that presents a tremendous opportunity to spotlight what Georgia is doing in the life sciences to a vast crowd of attendees and exhibitors. What are some of the highlights of your efforts as the host organization?
Craig: In general, what we've tried to do in taking advantage of the 2009 BIO International Convention is to make sure that all of Georgia's life sciences strengths are showcased. That's not only the research & development and the product development for improving healthcare, but also the animal health and ag biotech, and the biofuels. Georgia is really a leader in all applications of biotechnology. What we like to say is that throughout the state of Georgia, you're not very far from some form of biotechnology, because, for instance, the farmers in Georgia have been among the more aggressive ones across the nation to adopt ag biotech crops, particularly in cotton and corn. And biofuels is really just taking off here, and it's the cellulosic ethanol as opposed to corn ethanol, so Georgia – and really the rest of the Southeast – is going to be able to answer the question about whether or not the use of ethanol will continue to drive up food prices. They essentially will eliminate that concern by focusing on cellulosic ethanol.
That was really one of the main goals that we had at Georgia Bio was to showcase all these life sciences strengths, because they're all represented within the organization. Georgia Bio has pharmaceutical, biotechnology, biopharmaceutical and medical device companies, ag biotech and biofuels companies, as well as the research universities and other business organizations.
Georgia Bio is the organization in Georgia where all elements of the life sciences community come together, from the private sector, from the universities and from government, to collaborate in growing the life sciences industry. So we wanted to make sure everyone was represented for this convention, which is really almost the opportunity of a lifetime to showcase to the rest of the world what's going on here in Georgia.
Let me offer a couple of other things that are going to make the convention unique to Georgia and the Southeast. One is that Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, one of the strengths is their diversity and international connections. BIO is holding an inaugural diversity summit called "Fulfilling the Promise: Diversity in Biotechnology." It's a day-long summit on May 18, and it's going to look not only at diversity in the workforce in the biotechnology industry, but also take a look at healthcare disparities among minority groups. We're very excited about this. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is going to kick off the day-long summit with a breakfast keynote, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia will join with other congressional leaders in a legislative discussion about how government can address some of these issues. And Dr. Lewis Sullivan, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, is going to be the luncheon keynoter. This is going to be a great showcase for diversity here and how these issues are being tackled by the biotechnology industry, and how Georgia is a leader in bringing diversity to the industry and also in addressing these questions of healthcare disparities among minorities.
Two other things of note are that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is such a huge asset to Atlanta and Georgia, will be featured in a number of ways. The CDC is going to have a super-session at which they're going to be talking about global public health and also is going to hold workshop sessions in which they will talk about how companies can collaborate with their world-class scientists. We're really excited about that, because of course, making sure that the CDC was featured at this convention was an absolute necessity because it is such a huge asset to Georgia.
There also is going to be a food and fuel sustainability session. One of the exciting parts about this is that they keynote speaker is former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young. As you can see with these events, we're really showcasing a lot of the strengths here in Atlanta and in Georgia. And then our companies and the universities, the ag biotech efforts, the biofuels efforts, they're going to be highlighted in the exhibit hall, within the Georgia Pavilion. The State of Georgia has stepped up as a very major sponsor of this convention, so they're doing all they can to help showcase the companies and the research universities and the life sciences strengths here in Georgia. That's another way that we're trying to get the message out to show that Georgia really is a progressive state of innovation and that companies can be successful here.
BB&T: Not as it relates to the BIO meeting, but more in general: What are the major challenges you and Georgia Bio face in "selling" Georgia as a hot spot for life science organizations, both in biotechnology and medical technology?
Craig: There is a misperception about Georgia as a center of life sciences activity – Georgia is a center for such activity, but for some reason people just aren't as aware of it as they should be. One of the things that Georgia Bio does, in partnership with the state Department of Economic Development, in partnership with the universities, is to get that word out that this really is a hub of life sciences activity. As I mentioned before, it's every application of biotechnology. Georgia really does have a rich mix of pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies, and the universities are world-class.
One of the things that we have done for the first time here is that we now have an economic impact study on the life sciences industry on Georgia's economy. It was done by the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth, which is in the Terry College of Business. What this shows is that the life sciences industry, plus the life sciences research at the universities, are responsible for more than 62,000 jobs in Georgia, direct and indirect, and an annual economic impact of $17.3 billion. One out of every 68 jobs in Georgia owes its existence to the life sciences industry and life sciences research at the universities. If you just take the economic impact of the life science industry itself, it accounts for $16 billion in economic impact annually. By comparison, the entire University System of Georgia has an $11 billion impact. The life sciences industry impact is less than, say, forestry, which is a major, industry in Georgia with an annual economic impact of $28 billion. But it gives you an idea of how significant the life sciences industry is to the Georgia economy, and that's the existing industry. It really also has the potential to be the major driver of growth in Georgia in the future, because of its diversity – because it is a mix of pharmaceuticals and biotech and medical devices and ag biotech and biofuels. Another important statistic involves salaries. The average salaries of life sciences companies, $63,000, is 50% higher than the average $42,000 for all other industry sectors.
That study is going to be coming out at the 2009 BIO International Convention. One point to make is that the economic impact study does not include the huge impact of the CDC. That impact is not in the numbers, and the CDC has 8,000 full-time employees, the majority of them here in Georgia. But we did not include government operations in the study.
One thing that sometimes gets lost in the numbers – there are more than 300 life sciences companies in Georgia, and they employ directly about 20,000 professionals – is the great tings these companies are doing. We have companies that are targeting almost every major disease – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, infectious diseases such as AIDS and influenza and brain and spinal cord injuries. In animal health, Merial developed a cancer vaccine for melanoma in dogs. It's the first cancer vaccine approved for animals or humans. So, the companies here in Georgia have breakthrough products on the market and are creating new products.
The report that we have that comes out on an annual basis, Shaping Infinity, is done to track the progress of the industry, and it shows that the companies here in Georgia have more than 400 products on the market already, and they report that they have 350 to 400 additional products in clinical trials.
There really is a robust life sciences industry going on here in Georgia. The message is getting out. Having the 2009 BIO Convention come here is making a huge difference, and enabling us to get that message out, not only to the rest of the 'Southeast, but to the entire world.
BB&T: Having a highly educated workforce available obviously is an important consideration to those considering locating a life science business in a certain locale. Tell me about how the presence of institutions such as Georgia Tech, Emory and the University of Georgia plays a role in such decision-making.
Craig: Georgia Tech and Emory, for instance, are leaders in bringing together with the engineers from Georgia Tech and the physicians and healthcare scientists at Emory in order to create the new medical devices of the future. Georgia Tech, Emory and the Medical College of Georgia are also leading the way in nano-medicine, particularly as it is applied to cancer.
One of the other great strengths of the universities is that they are very collaborative, so Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Tech and Georgia State University and University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia, the strong research universities here, all work together. Life sciences is really one of the major focuses of research that goes on in this state.
BB&T: What are some of the companies already in place in Georgia?
Craig: Some of the big names include Solvay Pharmaceuticals, UCB, Ciba Vision, Immucor, Nor-amco, CryoLife, Theragenics, Inhibitex, and Sciele, which was acquired by Shionogi, one of the largest Japanese pharmaceutical companies. Shionogi is keeping Sciele intact and using it as Shionogi's gateway into the U.S, market. Noramco is a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary – Johnson & Johnson has 2,000 employees in three Georgia subsidiaries. Merial, a joint venture between Merck & Co. and sanofi-aventis, is one of the leading animal healthcare companies in the world. Eli Lilly's subsidiary, Elanco, has a bovine growth hormone manufacturing plant in Augusta that is the largest protein manufacturing plant in the world. Emerging companies that have made headlines include Altea Therapeutics and CardioMems, both of which are medical device companies.
There also are many early stage start-ups, such as Zygogen, which is a company that uses zebra fish for drug discovery. ArunA Biomedical, a company out of the University of Georgia, is using cells derived from embryonic stem cells in the drug discovery process, particularly progenitor neuronal cells to study drugs that might be effective against neurological diseases. Iconic Therapeutics is a unique virtual company developing a novel drug for macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults.
In biofuels, C2 Biofuels is a company out of Georgia Tech that is researching new technology to enable production of cellulosic ethanol. Then there's Range Fuels, which is building the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the nation in Georgia.
Quintiles Transnational just recently conducted a huge expansion in Georgia, combining Quintiles Global Central Laboratories and home of the Southeast division of Clinical Development Services in a more than 200,000-square-foot facility. The company plans to add another 400 jobs over the next two years, bringing its total employment to nearly 1,000 in Georgia.
BB&T: Where does Georgia rank in terms of life science companies now in place, and how has that changed in this decade?
Craig: Ernst & Young used to do a ranking of states, based on the number of biotech companies. EY discontinued its ranking in 2006, but in that final ranking Georgia was ranked No. 7. I think the broader message about where Georgia ranks is the idea that although California and Massachusetts are No. 1 and No. 2, all the other states are vying for No. 3. It's no surprise California and Massachusetts are the top two states because that's where the biotech industry got started back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. So to a certain extent, everybody else is playing catch-up.
When you look at the rest of the country, certainly Georgia is in the same class as Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and New York. Minnesota, of course, is very heavy in medical technology, and New Jersey is a little bit different because it is home to so many big pharmaceutical companies. .
There is no reason why Georgia will not advance in terms of medical device development. There are strong, well-established medical device companies such as Immucor and Ciba Vision, and emerging companies such as Altea Therapeutics and CardioMEMS. Also there is a strong relationship between Georgia Tech, Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia State University, the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia that is leading to development of new medical devices. The Walter H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering is a joint venture between Georgia Tech and Emory, and is bringing engineers together with physicians to come up with new ideas for medical devices and new approaches for treatments. With that strong foundation, it will attract more medical device companies and it is going to help the existing medical device folks grow.
In addition, the St. Joseph's Translational Research Institute (SJTRI) recently completed development of the largest pre-clinical testing laboratory operation in the Southeast in Technology Enterprise Park in Atlanta. SJTRI performs pre-clinical testing services for major medical device and pharmaceutical companies.
CardioMEMS is a great story of what can happen when engineers and physicians collaborate. A device that was originally developed as a wireless pressure monitor for inside jet engines is now being used inside the human body to monitor pressure at the site of abdominal aneurisms.
In nanomedicine, Georgia Tech has just opened a the Marcus Nanotechnology Center. Georgia Tech, in collaboration with Emory University and Medical College of Georgia, have been designated by the National Cancer Institute as a center of excellence for nanomedicine research and are receiving millions of dollars in grants.
BB&T: With the national economy being what it is, it seems like just about every state is eyeing biotech and med-tech firms as a means of helping jump-start economic growth. It's encouraging to see the interest in these sectors, but that must make the competition for such companies all the more intense, right?
Craig: When it comes to venture capital investment and the existence of the managerial talent to run these companies, that's where Georgia has some challenges. When you get down to it, venture capital investment is a challenge for everybody across the country. Maybe not so much in San Francisco and Boston and Cambridge, but certainly for just about everywhere else – everyone needs more venture capital investment.
One of the ways that Georgia can meet that challenge is to make sure that the word gets out that there are exciting new technologies here to be commercialized, first of all, and that companies can come here, and that all the elements are in place for them to be successful. There is a workforce here, with tens of thousands of life sciences professionals working here.
The state has fostered a business-friendly environment that is arguably more business-friendly than you'll find in California and Massachusetts and maybe some other states. Costs of doing business here are certainly lower, and the quality of life is better than many other areas. And of course, with Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you can get to almost anywhere – including a large number of international destinations – more quickly than from many other metropolitan areas.
There are some things that the state of Georgia could do in the form of incentives to help attract more venture capital and attract more companies. We certainly encourage the state to recognize that this is a very competitive atmosphere. Every state in the nation is competing for life science industry development, and they are doing some very aggressive things in terms of state support for growing that industry, and Georgia has lagged behind in that area somewhat.
BB&T: Are different approaches necessary in attracting firms from the medical device and pharma/biotech sectors?
Craig: I don't know that there are really different approaches in terms of attracting firms, because basically, you need a strong university research base, and Georgia has that, and it's a research base that is strong not only in development of new drugs and biologics, but also medical devices. The industry, across the world really, clusters around strong research universities. So that piece is in place.
There is a lot of overlap, I think, in the kinds of professionals needed to staff these companies, whether medical devices, pharmaceuticals or biologics. The state of Georgia and life sciences community should be working more closely together to develop a strategy for helping existing companies expand and for commercializing new technologies. That way, Georgia will develop the critical mass of companies it needs to sustain long-term growth.
BB&T: Georgia Bio has spearheaded the promotion of the Innovation Crescent as both a geographic area and a coalition of more than a dozen counties and entities focused on life sciences and economic development. The goal is to create name recognition similar to the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina or Silicon Valley in Northern California. How is that effort going thus far?
Craig: There are two main elements to the Innovation Crescent. One is promoting the Georgia life science industry through the development of this regional effort, because 85% of Georgia's life sciences companies are located in this 12-county region running from Atlanta to Athens. And of course, it's clustered around the universities in Atlanta and in Athens, and it includes Medical College of Georgia in Augusta because that school has so many collaborations with the Atlanta and Athens institutions. So the Innovation Crescent is a way to show the world where life sciences are practiced in Georgia. Now, that doesn't mean that a company that is coming to Georgia is only going to look at the Innovation Crescent as a place to locate, because there are plenty of locations in the state that are attractive for life sciences industry development. But the fact that it is where 85% of that development already is located gives the state and local governments a great opportunity to "sell" Georgia's life sciences industry strengths as well as showcase its scientific, managerial and workforce talent.
The other key element of the Innovation Crescent is the improvement of science education and workforce development programs. Georgia Bio has partnered with the Governor's Office of Workforce Development, the State Department of Education and county school systems, the Technical College System of Georgia, and the public and private universities to put in place a life sciences career pathway that connects biotech courses in high schools to associate degree and continued study programs in technical colleges to four-year degree programs in the universities. This pathway is essential for supporting the long-term growth of the industry.
BB&T: The national BIO organization's primary focus has been on the biotechnology side of the life sciences, but it has increasingly been involving biomedical businesses, especially with the growing interest in combination products, drug delivery technologies and the like. Georgia Bio has likewise cast a wider net as it seeks to grow the state as an area of life sciences activity. Tell me how med-tech fits into your focus.
Craig: Actually, we always have had a strong medical device presence in the organization, because Georgia's life sciences community really is a mix of pharmaceuticals, biotech and medical devices. What we did in changing our name from Georgia Biomedical Partnership to Georgia Bio, we were trying to reach out to the agriculture biotech and biofuels areas as well. That was driven in part to make sure the agriculture and biofuels interests were represented at the 2009 BIO International Convention, and that the state was cognizant of the fact that this is an opportunity to showcase all the life sciences industry's strengths, not just the drug and device makers, but also the great ag biotech and biofuels companies that are here too.
BB&T: Is there any question you wish I had asked, but haven't?
Craig: No (laughing), but I would like to add that I think it's important to get the message out that the State of Georgia in partnership with the life sciences industry should create a more focused, more aggressive vision of life sciences industry development to remain competitive with other states.
One of the elements Georgia has lacked is a vision of life sciences industry development and how the state wants to support growth. Life sciences technologies are at the heart of progress in so many different industry sectors – healthcare, agriculture, alternative energy – and all of those are major industry sectors here in Georgia. So in order to make sure that these industry sectors continue to be drivers of the state's economy, the state should find ways to support the application of new technologies in a more aggressive way than they have in the past. It's not just going to happen by chance.
The state has stepped up in a big way to sponsor the BIO Convention and get the message out that Georgia is a state of life sciences innovation, but state officials also should have a longer-term vision of commercialization and how to generate growth in an industry that is clean, provides high-paying, rewarding jobs and works to improve the health and well-being of people, animals and the environment.