Several factors come into play when looking to develop regional biotech hubs: A combination of capital for research and innovation and an existing business base, as well as scientific investigation led by institutions and universities.
That formula is evident in a plan put forth by the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association, which has promoted that state's multimillion-dollar plan for biotech research and development. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 7, 2003.)
Biotech's grip already is tight on areas such as Boston and its environs, Southern California and the Bay Area, and the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. Still, other regional pockets want a piece of the pie. According to a report by the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, 41 states had their own biotech associations in 2001 - and that was two years ago.
The third Georgia Life Science Summit in Atlanta drew more than 600 attendees. Without question, the state's related trade organizations are keen on growing biotech's presence in that area.
And with a number of magnets - universities as well as medical facilities - in place, the city of Atlanta has looked into a potential downtown site for a biotechnology campus. But those close to the initiative say it remains in the early stages.
"This is a pipe dream at this point," said Steve Foster, an advisor to Central Atlanta Progress, an organization at the forefront of a task force tapped to explore redevelopment in the city. "We don't have a plan, property or a developer. It just seems like a good idea to get these groups that don't have the same agenda to work together, because there are some overlaps and there are opportunities for them to work on a shared basis. We're exploring opportunities to find ways to work together."
Foster, an urban advisor for the local electric company Georgia Power, told BioWorld Today that a master plan incorporating needs of various parties has yet to be established. While any development remains conceptual, others close to the topic point out that elements with similar interests seem to be in place.
The relatively recent addition of a cancer research center at Grady Memorial Hospital, located not far from City Hall and the state capitol building, is one thread in a growing web of life sciences entities found in and around the area. Given the ideas floated among various civic and industry leaders, Grady could find itself at the center of such a corridor's development.
"There are so many development opportunities, and in looking at some of them and realizing what was going on in life sciences, we saw that this may be an avenue we could explore," said Russell Allen, the vice president of biosciences for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. "I don't know where the concept originated, but several parties got together and decided that we may have something to talk about here."
The greater metro area features a number of research facilities, perhaps most notably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, Emory University sends a large portion of its medical school students to train at Grady, as does Morehouse College's medical school, located just west of downtown.
Other research facilities of note in Atlanta include Georgia State University, its campus located downtown, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, found just more than a mile away.
Allen said the schools' incubator facilities are at or near capacity, with start-up companies ready to graduate and in need of more office and research space. Add a number of established biotech companies and related businesses, and the area seems ripe for further industry development. A local trade organization, the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, also continues to push for such regional growth.
"[The Georgia Biomedical Partnership] was founded to create a focal point, a network and forum, for individuals related to the life sciences industry," said David Dodd, the organization's chairman. "We include those directly working to produce products and do research, but also related support groups such as law and accounting firms to create a constituency base as a typical trade organization."
The local affiliate of BIO, the Georgia Biomedical Partnership boasts more than 500 members who represent a blend of government, academic and private industry. This year's Georgia Life Science Summit highlighted a need for capital and collaboration.
"The life sciences is an industry that people recognize as bringing true innovation and creating a lot of high-paying jobs," Dodd, also the president and CEO of Norcross, Ga.-based Serologicals Corp., told BioWorld Today. "It's also important on a regional basis - companies build when they're able to recruit from one another, and that's true of any industry."
Those exploring the urban biotech campus have studied other similar initiatives elsewhere, Allen told BioWorld Today. He traveled with task force members to Louisville, Ky., to explore that city's downtown development centered on a few hospitals.
In Atlanta, property issues cloud the matter as the city, county and state governments all own land in the area, as do private businesses and other interests. But the local life sciences industry could see some quick benefits if the idea actually turns into a long-term plan.
"We would see start-up and incubator space probably as some element of this," said Foster. "But other likely stakeholders need to be involved, such as the state or city, and other entities that may be able to help with the process."