RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Visionary government, academic and private leadership helped North Carolina build a formidable biotechnology hub in the state, much of it aided by the NC Biotechnology Center, several speakers stressed at a 35th anniversary celebration earlier this week.
The event opened with an open house that drew a capacity crowd including many major players in the region’s biotech ecosystem.
In 1984, the Biotech Center formed as a state-funded, private, non-profit company. It has acted as a catalyst to grow North Carolina’s life science strengths. The 35th anniversary event celebrated the success of 700+ companies and 2,400 supporting businesses, along with the 240,000 jobs that are supported by the life sciences industry in the state.
Since its founding, NCBiotech has distributed almost 3,000 awards totaling more than $150 million. Its loans and grants have resulted in significant additional follow-on funding for every dollar invested.
An epicenter for gene therapy
“The Biotech Center helped place us at the very top of the biotech industry in the U.S.,” said Art Pappas, of Pappas Capital, a major biotech investor, during the open house. “The economic growth that resulted has been profound.” A distinguishing factor about the Center is that “It covers the whole state, not just a city,” he said.
Preston Linn, industry academic coordinator with the University of North Carolina/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, who has held executive positions with a number of state biotech companies, agreed. “The Biotech Center created an opportunity for NC to build out the biotech industry affecting all 100 counties in the state,” he said.
Biotech Center President and CEO Doug Edgeton opened the ceremony noted that the state has progressed from its first contract research organizations and the location of Burroughs Welcome to becoming “An epicenter for curative gene therapy.”
Technical difficulties prevented showing a video made by Hatteras Venture Partner and former CEO of Glaxo, Bob Ingram. Ingram, Edgeton said, “Continues to catalyze the life sciences and always keeps his mind on the patient.” You can see the video here:
John Rabby, Biotech Center board chair, read a note from NC Senator Tom Tillis congratulating the Center on its anniversary and promising to assist it in any way he could in the future.
Karen LeVert, co-founder and CEO of Southeast Techinventures and AgTech Inventures, and a Biotech Center board member, outlined how the Center accelerated life sciences in the state. She noted that its 35 years of doing so was quite an accomplishment. “In the startup world I’m in, three or four years is a long time,” she quipped.
She pointed out the visionary leadership by governors of different parties in the 1980s and the Biotech Center’s president for its first 14 years, Dr. Charles Hamner, started building the life sciences sector in the state. “Their actions were very deliberate.”
“Let’s go there”
They helped the state transition from the end of the dominance of tobacco, textiles and furniture industries to the knowledge economy, saying “Let’s go there.”
The state recruited it first biotech companies, including Biogen, and top ranked academics, such as Nobel Prize winner Oliver Smithies. The rest is history.
LeVert finished by mentioning the variety of innovative biotech companies in the state, working in areas ranging from gene editing and advance blood technology to perfume stabilizers. She concluded by having the audience call out coming areas of importance, which Edgeton said are enough for the next 35 years of development.
Center Senior Vice President Bill Bullock briefly noted that he “travels all over the planet” to pitch the state’s advantages to biotech companies, and the state has had considerable success in recruiting firms to come here.
Edgeton also did a video interview with Biltmore Farms President Jack Cecil to discuss biotechnology growth in the western region of North Carolina and the future of life sciences across the state.
Entrepreneur Aaron Lazarus concluded the formal program. The CEO and co-founder of EncepHeal Therapeutics, which is developing a treatment to reduce cravings for cocaine or methamphetamine addiction, said the “Open arms of the life science community to two young college grads” made his company possible.
In an interview after the formal event, Lazarus said his company would not have been possible without a Biotech Center loan and other help.
The event wrapped up with a reception that included cake, chocolate covered marshmellow pops, food and wine and beer.