Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature on Fridays.One sign of the growth of the regional biotechnology sector in the Research Triangle is the emergence of specialists marketing their services to the industry, particularly to start-ups.

Often, brilliant scientists with limited business experience start such firms. They frequently need help navigating the regulatory maze imposed on biotech and pharmaceutical development firms, and creating a viable business from their research.

Attorney Sheila A. Mikhail started Durham-based Life Sciences Law in March and has already acquired about 30 clients such as Bayer, Bayer Crop Science, and Biostratum. She also represents a number of early stage biotech startups emerging from regional university research.

Despite the ragged economy, Mikhail has already added two additional attorneys’s to the firm and works with strategic partner firms on the West Coast, Boston, and Europe.

Mikhail says her friends kidded her about starting a new firm when she left Womble Carlyle in the Research Triangle to launch the venture. “But we’re growing and I haven’t spent a time on advertising. It’s all from referrals,” she says.

Life Sciences law has about 30 clients, including some bioinformatics start ups. “I wanted to create synergies in one area,” Mikhail says. “A lot of specialized knowledge goes into the context of the life sciences arena.”

In particular, Mikhail specializes in licensing and financing arrangements, drawing upon her contacts in Boston and the West Coast for resources. “It used to be that start ups pursued one strategy, getting venture capital. But times have changed.”

She says that some of her start ups now look for alternatives to venture funding in the early going such as small business innovative research grants, even though the firms will eventually need much larger infusions of cash to succeed.

Giving start-ups media savvy

Lisa A. Wilder, president of Wilder Communications, says biotech start-ups often cannot afford an on staff communications specialist in the early going.

Wilder’s Cary-based company provides communications counsel for the biotech, pharmaceutical and clinical research industries. Wilder’s clients include Amplistar, Biolex, Conceptis Technologies, Demegen, Glaxo Wellcome, NovaTero foundation, Pfizer, Schwarz Biosciences and The Body Shop.

Wilder’s experience includes stints at top industry companies and a wide range of communications gigs. She was worldwide spokeswoman for Warner-Lambert, director of investor and public relations at Triangle Pharmaceuticals, and has agency experience with three New York advertising and public relations firms.

Wilder produced medical news stories for CNN in Atlanta and currently reports and produces feature stories for UNC-TV (North Carolina Public TV).

Wilder, who has an MS in nutrition and mass communications from Boston University, says biotech companies often have specialized communications needs due to the nature of their products.

She explains how she helped a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company handle the impact of a potentially life-threatening shortage of one of the company’s prescription drugs.

The company recognized the problem because a large number of irate people in the Chicago area called the its medical affairs department. An information gathering task force uncovered the cause of the delay — supplies held up in a warehouse in the Chicago area and some manufacturing issues.

By preparing a media statement and answers to expected questions, the company deflected negative publicity, including a live radio question and answer session. “I assured listeners there were medical supplies in place for those who needed the drug” she says.

The result: “There was no further media attention and the company’s image remained intact as an organization that cares about human beings.”

Life Sciences Law: www.lifescilaw.com

Wilder Communications: www.wildercommunications.com