Editor’s note: Doug Edgeton, President and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — For the better part of four decades, North Carolina has steadily committed resources to developing biotechnologies and a life science cluster via the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Through the work of many researchers, entrepreneurs, service providers, state and federal policy makers, and partners, North Carolina has grown its life science cluster from a handful of companies to 735 today.
As we begin to bridge our fifth decade of work, this National Biotechnology Month is an opportunity to show pride in the 66,000 people who make their living in this clean industry.
From the minds of North Carolina researchers, important advances still improve our quality of life today. North Carolina’s prize-winning science brought us a model to study a broad spectrum of disease, a method for improving crop yield, and a contrarian yet correct approach to treating Alzheimer’s.
Today, North Carolina companies produce a range of medicines, diagnostic tests, improved crops and bio-based fuel that influence our lives every day. And in the coming decade North Carolina will lead the way with both the science behind and production of potentially curative gene and cell therapies.
North Carolina has done this with a focus on raising up its population with world-class training programs, emulated across the U.S. and even internationally. With a combination of community college and university training, North Carolinians in both urban and rural areas are able to secure these high-paying jobs manufacturing important products in a clean environment. Nowhere is this better seen than in the BioPharma Crescent, a five-county area of rural eastern North Carolina. Through deliberate attention to infrastructure and training, this region has built a cluster of companies that employs 10,000 from a wide swath of rural North Carolina.
Biotechnology has made a similar positive impact on our state’s historic strength of agriculture. Cotton, soybeans and corn dominate the Coastal Plain, while underground North Carolina produces the world’s largest supply of sweet potatoes. A vast diversity of plants in western North Carolina provides the source for nutritional supplements. Our specialty crop farmers benefit from targeted research, and a consortium of researchers are uncovering new sources of animal feed with enhanced nutrition, grown right here in North Carolina.
In Kannapolis, researchers from a broad coalition of universities are matching nutrition, physical performance and longevity to extend the quality and length of lives.
The list of opportunities – those realized and those yet to be – goes on. From a trailer on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus came the global contract research and testing industry. In Winston-Salem, a biotech campus rose from a cluster of tobacco facilities. And for retiring veterans and high school seniors alike, targeted programs are opening up new opportunities for pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs.
Biotechnology and the life sciences have a long and broad history in North Carolina. On behalf of the North Carolina life science community, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center looks forward to the coming decade, to catalyzing the solutions that will make life better for North Carolinians, Americans, and people around the globe. With so much success behind us, there can only be greater promise ahead.