Editor’s note: BioWatch is a regular feature in Local Tech Wire.NCBIO ran a full-page ad in the Boston Globe promoting North Carolina in early December that cost about $47,000, but resulted in something of a public relations coup.

“It came to our attention through various sources,” says Sam Taylor, vice president of NCBIO, which represents the biotech industry here, “that politicians in Massachusetts and some of its major metropolitan areas were making decisions that were draconian and negative for the industry.”

Springfield, MA Mayor, Michael Albano, for instance, trimmed $9 million from his city budget by creating a program to import cheaper Canadian prescription drugs for city employees. Cambridge and Boston both considered doing the same thing. Some Massachusetts politicians suggested that the state should buy drugs in bulk to lower Medicaid costs.

So, says Taylor, who has helped make North Carolina a state with extraordinary inducements to lure biotech business here, “we thought that represented an opportunity for us to say, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way. In North Carolina we have a favorable business climate and politicians who support our industry.’ “

In its full-page Boston Globe ad, NCBIO crowed: “Instead of slashing payments for state-of-the-art biotechnology products, North Carolina this year revealed plans to invest no less than $60 million in programs and facilities to train new workers.

“Instead of adopting programs designed to artificially manipulate the market for pharmaceuticals through price controls, our state leaders demanded a comprehensive strategy for rewarding innovation and bringing the benefits of biotechnology to all parts of the North Carolina.”

NC not smart enough?

In response, a New Bedford, MA State Senator, Mark Montigny, who supports bulk buying of drugs, told a Boston Globe reporter writing about the NC effort to reach MA biotech companies: “I hardly think North Carolina will be serious competition for the intellectual capital here.”

Taylor responds: “We made some accurate and truthful observations about their business and political climate and they impugned our intelligence and quality of life.”

Leslie Alexandre, chief executive officer of the NC Biotech Center, told Local Tech Wire: “We had nothing to do with it and I had some trepidation about how it might come out.”

It came out finer in North Carolina

When Boston Globe reporter Scott S. Greenberger asked a major biotech company with facilities in both MA and NC what it thought, Tim Hunt, a spokesman for Cambridge-based Biogen Idec, confirmed that the company was “ruffled by the political winds in Massachusetts.”

Hunt told the reporter, “It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows our industry that there are some politicians in Massachusetts who have little regard for research-based biotechnology companies.”

But that was only the first salvo. In the third week in December, George B. Donnelly of the Boston Business Journal weighed in with an editorial on the topic. Donnelly had recently visited Charlotte, the headquarters of American City Business Journals, which owns the Boston weekly.

In his editorial, Donnelly called attention with considerable humor to some of what businesses might find finer in North Carolina.

He noted that the average price of a 5-room, 3,700 square foot home in Davidson, North Carolina, for instance, “is $379,000.” He added that in Boston you might buy the land for that. He noted that in restaurants he mistook entrees for appetizers because the prices were so low.

Not only that, after his four-day stay in NC, Donnelly says, “There is civilized life outside the northeast.”

Donnelly also echoed something Taylor and Alexandre noted: “Those who suggest North Carolina doesn’t have enough intellectual capital to compete with Massachusetts haven’t got a clue.”

Now, Alexandre says, “I think it worked out well for us.”

Taylor adds: “We got at least as much value in free press as we did from the ad. “We had lots of media calls.” Those resulted in stories in the Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and the Associated Press wire service.


Taylor says that following on the heels of the major successes biotech supporters had in 2003, NCBIO would very much like to see the Biotech Center’s funding restored to historically higher levels.

“The Center has some truly excellent and well-targeted programs to support the industry though research grants and low interest loans to small companies,” Taylor says. “Funding of those programs has not kept pace with inflation and in fact in many cases has been cut due to reductions necessitated by the state budget crisis. They need to be restored.”

Petrilla new CEO at StemCo

StemCo, Durham, has appointed James D. Petrilla chief executive officer and board director.

Petrilla was previously vice president and general manager of Biovail Corp., where he managed 750 people in sales, marketing and finance, managed care and human resources, information technology and medical services. His team grew gross sales more than 40 percent during his tenure.

Petrilla also held senior executive positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb and began his pharmaceutical career with Merck & Co.

Petrilla achieved the rank of Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy, where he was a cryptologic officer and led teams on land, aboard submarines and in naval aircraft.

StemCo, founded in 1999, develops, makes, and distributes medial products to improve the use of certain stem and progenitor cells derived from umbilical cord blood remaining after the delivery of healthy babies.

The company launched its first product, Aldefluor, in March. It is designed to identify, count and isolate stem cells for research and clinical applications.

StemCo also filed for clearance to market a second product. The company closed $16 million in two rounds of venture funding from investors that include Intersouth Partners, Aurora Funds, Piedmont Angel Investors, Trelys, Tall Oaks Capital Partners and Becton Dickenson Ventures.

StemCo Biomedical: www.stemcobiomedical.com