The standing of the Research Triangle Park and North Carolina among the nation’s largest biotechnology clusters received another boost this week in a report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization and consulting firm Battelle.

The Triangle ranks sixth nationally among metro areas in drug and pharmaceutical jobs (11,115), according to the latest available data, the study reported. Those jobs paid an average wage of $81,085.

Statewide, firms employed 19,409 in drugs and pharmaceuticals, according to the study. That represents a 3.4 percent increase since 2001, a rate slightly less than the national increase of 4 percent.

Each of those drug and pharmaceutical jobs helped generate an additional 4.7 jobs, the study added.

Georgia, meanwhile, had some 19,000 and South Carolina more than 11,000 biotech-related jobs.

The study, titled “Technology, Talent and Capital: State Bioscience Initiatives 2008,” was released at the annual BIO meeting in San Diego. The 2006 data showed North Carolina with some 49,000 jobs spread among more than 1,100 establishments.

Statewide, 450 biotechnology companies employ 55,000 people, according to the latest data from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Life-science-industry job growth in North Carolina was fastest in research, testing and medical laboratories between 2001-2006. Employment soared 57 percent to 16,005, the BIO study reported. Nationally, employment grew 18 percent.

Medical device and equipment firms grew their collective work force to 9,165, up 14 percent, in the same time frame. Nationally, employment dropped 1 percent.

Other studies rank the Triangle biotechnology cluster as one of the nation’s largest – as high as third in Ernst & Young surveys.

“This study demonstrates the continued growth, strength and diversity of the Research Triangle region’s life-sciences cluster and demonstrates the high rate of return for investments made by the region and the state of North Carolina over the past 25 years,” said Peter Pellerito of PMP Public Affairs Consulting in Chapel Hill. He was a contributing editor and author for the report.

“Dozens of states and regions around the world would love to have this industry cluster,” he added in a statement. “State and regional lawmakers and economic developers should see this new report as an affirmation of past efforts as well as a reminder of what it will take to continue to compete in today’s global marketplace.”

Nationally, biotech industry employment grew to 1.3 million in 2006 from 1.2 million in 2004, the report said. The average biotech job salary was $71,000.