From The President: Southeast Keeps an Eye on Bio

Keeps an Eye on Bio

Many of us hear the term “biotechnology” and may think of sprawling R&D labs around Boston, San Diego or Research Triangle Park. But there also is an exciting future for this important industry in Southeastern North Carolina.

In October, Wilmington was the host location for the BioMarine Business Convention 2015, an international gathering of leading sea-based biotech firms. It was the first time the conference was held in the United States, and our region showed well. Some 300 scientists, entrepreneurs and government officials from 17 countries participated in the three-day gathering at Cape Fear Community College. For some attendees,itwastheirfirstglimpseatNorthCarolinaasapossiblebusiness destination.BioMarineis a priority focus for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and resources like UNCW’s CREST Research Park position the Southeast Region for success.

Randall Johnston, executive director of the Biotech Center’s Southeastern Office, called the BioMarine convention “an unparalleled opportunity to showcase” the region. “Focused on commercialization opportunities, the Business and Innovation Tour showcased UNCW’s impressive marine biotech facilities and commercialization activity in aquaculture, fish feed, by-product utilization, fuel/energy and pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Precision medicine and oncology research arealsoareasofemergingleadershipforthestate. With massive regional hospital systems in Fayetteville, Lumberton and Wilmington, both segments offer exciting potential for our region. They could also fuel continued expansion of contract research organizations (CROs) here.Lastmonth’sannouncementbyAAIPharma/Cambridge Major Labs that it will grow its lab and global headquarters space in Wilmington is evidence that our region has the human resources (i.e., “talent”), cost structure, market access and other advantages CROs seek.

With our vast and fertile farmlands, the Southeast Region is poised for success in agriculture-based biotechnology. Like its marine counterpart, this corner of the life science industry is driven by the imperative of feeding the world’s growing population in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, affordable and nutritionally sound. There are obvious synergies that can develop between ag-bio companies and our region’s huge consumer foods cluster.

Life science companies bring significant capital investment and high-wage jobs. An added bonus: the industry, which is propelled by demand for essential goods like pharmaceuticals and food, is largely recession-proof. During the historic economic downturn of 2008-2010, for example, bioscience employment in North Carolina grew by 4.1 percent, according to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, while the state lost jobs at a 3.9 percent rate.

These are a few of the reasons life sciences in North Carolina’s Southeast Region are well worth watching.

Steve Yost, President