Friday’s story on criticism of plan: www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=7042 Ken Tindall, senior vice president at the NC Biotechnology Center, says the biotech strategy plan delivered to Gov. Mike Easley last week “is a strong report, and we welcome comments and recommendations.”

Replying to criticisms of the report by the John Locke Foundation and others that suggest the plan’s job creation numbers are highly speculative, Tindall tells Local Tech Wire, “We think the numbers are realistic.”

The 100-page strategic guide says its 54 recommendations may lead to creation of 100,000 jobs by 2023.

“These are targets,” Tindall says. “These are challenges. This is where we can go, and those numbers are realistic with appropriate investment and the continued growth of this industry.”

Tindall says the biotech strategy plan doesn’t put money in just the Biotech Center, the state commerce department, or the universities. “It’s a holistic view of developing this industry that makes North Carolina strong. This plan is comprehensive.”

Tindall concedes the job numbers are projections, but adds: “We’re really confident we can meet those goals.”

“We’re building on an already solid infrastructure here. Any projection is just that,” Tindall explains. Those projections are based on the historical growth rate of the industry and investments intended to continue that kind of growth in the state, he says.

But the 20 years of state investment in developing home-grown biotech companies and luring others to build facilities here has paid off, Tindall says.

Other areas trying to compete for more biotech industry are having to spend greater sums than North Carolina is proposing in its strategic plan just to get to where we are now, Tindall says.

Noah Pickus, director of the Emerging Issues Institute at North Carolina State University, suggests that all such reports would benefit from outside analysis. Tindall agrees.

“Analysis is always beneficial in any kind of large project. My guess is that this report will receive a lot of outside analysis,” Tindall says. “We’re very comfortable with the recommendations made.”

Tindall admits that the report has to be “a living document. We live in a dynamic economy and you have to be willing to look at any of these measures and say this is more important.”

Other jobs will be added

Tindall notes that the support jobs biotech manufacturing jobs create are not included in the strategic plan’s job creation estimates. “The state department of commerce did a study to quantify those support jobs and said 2.9 are created for every biomanufacturing job,” he says.

Tindall cautions that the study focused only on biomanufacturing, where sales, supply, delivery, and assorted other support positions are created, not on biotech as a whole.

Critics of the biotech plan argue that once biomanufacturing becomes mature and automated, the plant will locate where it’s cheapest to do business.

One critic of the plan says that once biotech matures, it will automate the process of deriving products from living cells and plants will go where costs are least expensive.

“These biomanufacturing plants are highly specific to a product,” counters Tindall. “They’re dealing with large molecule production, not the chemical synthesis. The processes are highly specific, highly regulated, and not easily automated. When they are, the automation process can’t be easily applied from one product to another.

“Each of these biomanufacturing plants requires specific kinds of approaches and processes that are unique. That’s why they want to build their own plants.”

Cluster benefits

Tindall adds that technology-based companies tend to cluster in regions such as the Research Triangle for good reasons. Those include proximity to allies, partners, supplies, and support services.

“It’s helpful to have a cluster of people thinking about and dealing with the same sorts of problems,” he explains. “We have a strongly interactive biotech community. The strength of our universities allows for the type of business and research interaction that solves problems. It’s an advantage few areas enjoy.”

Tindall points to the numerous biotech companies that were conceived in the area and stayed here: Paradigm Genetics, Trimeris, Triangle Pharmaceuticals, and Pozen among others.

“People forget that Amgen and Biogen were startups 20 years ago,” Tindall says. “We have a great opportunity to see continued growth here.”

Biotech Strategic Plan: www.ncbiotech.org/strategicplan