Medical Device Daily

ATLANTA - Biomedical research and medical device development have become the newest, hottest targets for regional developmental efforts, and the State of Georgia is clearly working overtime to be a leader in that hunt.

As illustration, the Georgia Biomedical Partnership (GBP; Atlanta), sponsor of this week's Georgia Life Sciences Summit 2006, released at the meeting a "state of the industry" report for life sciences in Georgia called "Shaping Infinity." Using U.S. Economic Census data showing that the life sciences industry in Georgia grew by 30% between 1997 and 2002.

And while Atlanta was the proud host of the 1996 Olympic Games, Russell Medford, MD, PhD, president/CEO ofAtherogenics (Alpharetta Georgia), noted that the state will host another major "olympics" in 2009, the annual Bio International Convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (Washington).

Since snaring that event for the city and state is considered a major coup, Medford likened this year's Georgia Life Sciences Summit - the sixth such event - to a big "buildup" to the BIO meeting and offering industrial-strength evidence of the state's progress in this sector.

The GBP's "Shaping Infinity" study - based on responses from 108 companies in the life sciences industry - showed that the largest jump in the state's growth was a 77% increase in life sciences R&D. And the report cites the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics data, showing that of about 16,000 life sciences employees in Georgia, 3,518 were in "surgical, electro-medical and electrotherapeutic instruments manufacturing" and 6,450 in "medical and diagnostic laboratories and blood and organ banks."

Many other states - to be precise, 44, according to the report - have structured efforts to build and attract life sciences companies within their boundaries.

But Medford told summit attendees that he was "tired of people talking about" other states, such as Massachusetts and California, as being the major biotech centers, and that GBP wants Georgia to be in the category of companies that is top-of-mind in the life sciences arena.

Between 2004 and 2005, the life sciences accelerated faster than any other industry in Georgia, he said. Even with all the growth, he said, "Capital is the [most intense] challenge we face." He should know. As a current director and scientific co-founder of Atherogenics, Medford said he spends most of his time raising capital for the company.

Medford reported at least 300 drug and device products in clinical trials in Georgia, most in Phase II trials.

Also, he pointed to biotechnology efforts not just in the healthcare arena, but also in agriculture - historically, the basis for Georgia's economy - and, a bit surprisingly perhaps, products to combat bioterrorism.

Another area the industry is Georgia is focused on is "green plastics," he said, for industrial and environmental uses.

"One hundred percent of the livestock feed grown here in Georgia is genetically modified to resist pests," he noted also. And one of the "world's largest animal healthcare" companies, Merial (Duluth), is based in the state.

Helping to fuel all of these efforts, Georgia can bank on the attraction of its university complex, consisting of, at its core, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and Emory University Medical School (all Atlanta), the Medical College of Georgia (Augusta) and the University of Georgia (Athens).

And of course, Atlanta is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

In terms of one of the advanced initiatives receiving national attention, Medford noted that the possibility of a company building a biofuel and ethanol plant in Southeast Georgia.

The life science industry "is already an essential part of the Georgia landscape," he said.

However, he emphasized that those in the industry - through the Georgia Biomedical Partnership - need to move forward aggressively to grow their efforts. As a result, the partnership came up with a $1 billion "bold strategy" for the future.

The goals in the strategic vision include measures to supply capital to companies and researchers which support commercialization of technology.

To date, the components of this "vision" include $250 million in venture capital for recruiting and retaining companies; a $200 million facilities fund that creates infrastructure to support life sciences growth; $150 million to establish the Georgia Bioscience Commercialization Center as a single-point of contact for collaboration between private industry and government; and $400 million to strengthen research, essentially providing an additional $100 million above current funding levels for grants to deserving scholars.

"We think bioscience represents the greatest hope for disease [cures]," Medford said.

Medford also discussed a statewide poll conducted on behalf of the GBP, demonstrating that a "significant majority" of Georgia voters supports embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.

The poll, conducted by Republic pollster Whit Ayres of Ayres McHenry & Associates (Washington), also showed that Georgians "overwhelmingly oppose" reproductive cloning.

The results showed that Georgia voters support embryonic stem cell research by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 67% to 31%. Support for therapeutic cloning was in the double-digit margin, 55% to 42%, the poll found.

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