North Carolina has an opportunity to establish a leadership role in advanced medical technologies today just as it did in biotechnology more than two decades ago, according to Norris Tolson.

“Today we unveiled a strategic plan for capitalizing on the convergence of biotechnology, pharmaceutical research, information technology, nano technology and medical device research,” Tolson told attendees at The Exchange networking event in Durham on Wednesday night.

“Did you know that the state with the second highest number of medical device workers in the United States behind California is Minnesota?”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Biotechnology Center unveiled a strategic plan for expanding the state’s fledgling medical device and advanced medical technology research industry. NC BIO, a statewide lobbying organization, also participated in the study.

The plan calls for the creation of a Center for Advanced Medical Technologies. Details were disclosed at the Biotech Center during a Council for Entrepreneurial Development program focused on medical devices.

"We’re facing a convergence of technologies and an aging population that’s creating an explosion of opportunities in this new global sector," said Teri Louden, a medical industry consultant from Chapel Hill who helped prepare the report.

"And that’s why we need a Center for Advanced Medical Technologies even though we already have the world’s first and finest Biotechnology Center. It will be the catalyst and support network we need to advance this technology sector from within, and also provide resources and services to those global scientists and companies who might like to move here."

The establishment of the Biotech Center has long been cited as a major reason why North Carolina has become the home for the third largest collection of biotechnology companies in the country.

The medical device industry in the state is already growing, the report noted.

The number of medical device companies in North Carolina rose to 142 in 2006 from 105 a decade earlier. The number of employees climbed to 7,200 in 2006, up from 6,179 in 1996.

North Carolina doesn’t crack the top 10 in states with the most medical device workers, however. California has more than 50,000 and Minnesota more than 20,000 to top the list, Tolson told the Durham audience.

Average medical device worker wages in North Carolina mirror those of biotechnology workers – $40,648.

The medical device industry could contribute more than $9 billion to the state’s economy within two years, the study added.

Venture capitalists have been paying more attention to the medical device sector in North Carolina, the report added. Since 1999, advanced medical technology firms have raised more than $545 million. Of that money, $370 million went to medical device firms, $99 million to diagnostics firms and $76 million to medical information technology, according to the report.

The plan focuses on four areas of recommendations. They are:

Establish a North Carolina Center for Advanced Medical Technologies

• Complete a business plan for the Center, to include initial years of investment required and a
• goal of being self-sustaining by year five.

• Identify and seek funding sources from various entities, including:

• The North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s new Centers of Innovation program

• Other State support

• Charitable foundations

• Vendors

• Health care payors and providers

• Hire a talented staff and assemble an expert advisory council

Networking and Education

• Provide seminars, meetings, and conferences to support medical technology executives, scientists, engineers, clinicians and vendors

• Recognize leading technologies, companies and individuals

• Bring together advanced medical technology “users, buyers and payors” with technical experts and facilitate partnering in the creation of workable and commercially viable solutions to problems

Company Commercialization/Technology Transfer

• Collaborate with universities to accelerate technology transfer and technical assistance

• Provide tailored support to entrepreneurs and incubators working in advanced medical technologies

Branding/Marketing/Business Development for Advanced Medical Technologies

• Track, document and market on an ongoing basis what is happening in advanced medical technologies
• across the state

• Attract medical technology companies to North Carolina from across the United States and internationally

• Educate legislators and North Carolina businesses, consumers, students, health care providers and payers about North Carolina’s advanced medical technology assets and activities

• Benchmark North Carolina investment in the development of advanced medical technologies against the investment made by other states

For details, see the Web link to the entire Advanced Medical Technologies plan.