“Everybody thinks they’re going to be the next biotech hot spot,” says Doug Darr, 48, vice president and chief scientific officer of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG).

Darr, who served as VP of business and technology development at the NC Biotech Center for eight years, left that position citing strategic-thinking differences with the Center’s new CEO, Leslie Alexandre, in 2002. He joined the PLSG a few months ago.

The Internet site Genome Web recently quoted Darr about Florida’s efforts to make Palm Beach one of those biotech hot spots by spending $570 million in taxpayer funds to help establish a Scripps Research Institute nearby.

“Florida will recoup its investment,” he said, “But will it be the next biotech hot spot? I doubt it.” Instead, Darr compares the Florida effort to establishing of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the RTP in the early 1970s.

“Even if Scripps never brings in a single company to the Palm Beach area, it will provide quality employment that will still be there in 25 years,” he tells Local Tech Wire.

Pennsylvania as a whole, on the other hand, Darr says, can “stand up to anyone” with its life sciences base. But it’s scattered. On a day to day basis, there’s not a lot of interaction between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia life science communities, he points out.

“One of the reasons the Research Triangle succeeded,” Darr suggests, “is that we calculated years ago it had a $1.5 billion research and development base within 25 miles. It’s a closed geographic center.”

Spending $100 million

Pennsylvania claims more than 350 life-sciences companies employing more than 50,000 workers. More than $775 million in federally funded life-sciences research is conducted at Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities annually. The state ranks second nationally in pharmaceutical employment; third in biotech employment; and fourth in medical-device employment.

The state is spending $100 million from its tobacco company settlement money to spur the life sciences industry in the state. The money is split between Pittsburgh, Central PA, and Philadelphia regions and creates a Life Sciences Greenhouse in each region.

Statewide, the Life Sciences Greenhouse is expected to directly create 4,400 new jobs, attract or create 100 new biotechnology companies, and leverage more than $150 million in private capital over the next five years.

Helped with NC plan

Reasonable “Pittsburgh is tempering its expectations with reality,” Darr says. ” Pittsburgh is about where RTP was when I joined the center eight or nine years ago. We’re attempting some of the same sorts of programs we had down there (in RTP).”

Those include efforts to recruit faculty to universities, supporting research, and trying to put together early stage, seed and pre-seed funding programs. “We want to give them enough money to get into trouble,” he says.

“That means where they’ve succeeded enough to need $5 million to $15 million,” he explains. “The RTP has had some trouble with that early stage funding too,” he says.

“We’re still looking at ways to recruit life sciences companies to Pittsburgh. We won’t throw money at them. We don’t have it.”

Darr worked along with the former head of the NC Biotech Center, Dr. Charles Hamner, Sam Taylor, vice president of NCBIO, a lobbying organization, and others to bolster NC’s efforts to attract bio-manufacturing here.

He says of the bond authority recently approved but not yet funded by the NC legislature, “I hope it’s been vetted to take a look at the risk profile.

“We took a look at models in Rhode Island where they have done it several times,” Darr says. He still thinks it’s a good idea, though.

“Once a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certified manufacturing plant is in the ground, they aren’t going anywhere. It’s an asset the state can always utilize. I’m not sure bankers are trained to understand that.

“They see all that steel they can’t turn into apartment units and several hundred million in construction costs. But if a tenant leaves a state-of-the-art FDA approved manufacturing plant, it probably won’t stay vacant long.”

Darr points to the DSM Catalytica Pharmaceuticals plant in Greenville, NC. “It used to be a Burroughs Welcome plant, and Merck was looking at that one for a time. Most other places have not taken the lead to say there is an aftermarket for this.”

Darr says that while the biotech climate is warming up in PA, the winter is distinctly less warm. Darr visited his family, which is still in NC, over the holidays.

Darr, a Pittsburgh native, says he left NC driving with his window down but by the time he got there, “it was 42 and raining. The other day they said it might get down to 2 degrees but it only went down to 10,” he quips. “But I knew I was coming back to the cold.”

Incara is still alive

Incara Pharmaceutical Corp., (OTC:ICRA) which reorganized this fall following a $5 million commitment in further funding from its largest investor, says it is still working on the preclinical studies that must be completed for it to receive the additional funds.

Bennett Love, vice president of corporate planning and communications tells Local Tech Wire the company still has 10 employees and does not expect to run out of money before finishing the preclinical toxicology studies.

Incara is developing AEOL 10150, a catalytic antioxidant compound for treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Incara signed a $5 million debenture and warrant purchase agreement with Goodnow Capital, L.L.C., an investment entity controlled by the Xmark Funds in New York in September, 2003. The purchase agreement followed an earlier $3 million commitment of bridge funding from Goodnow to Incara announced in July 2003.

Incara: www.incara.com

Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse: www.pittsburghlifesciences.com/