Regions are looking to biotech to make the difference between boom and bust for their economies, but it takes more than tax incentives, buildings, and land to construct a winning biotech incubator. Unfortunately, the regions doing the planning often ignore that basic fact and proceed blithely onward despite a scarcity of the type of human capital and infrastructure that makes the difference between success and failure.
“A lot of things have to happen in order to have a successful biotech initiative, and the state can only do so much to build a better environment,” stresses Maik Klasen, senior healthcare consulting director at Frost & Sullivan.
Without the key ingredients, “it’s difficult to understand why regions think they can compete with established clusters,” muses Joe Panetta, CEO of BIOCOM, San Diego’s biotech association. Success, he says, “comes down to the ability to do the most innovative research.” Intellectual property must be on the cutting edge.
“Go to any established cluster,” Panetta says, “and there are strong universities.” San Diego’s companies can collaborate with researchers at the University of California at San Diego, The Scripps Institute, the Salk Institute, and other nearby stellar resources.
San Francisco companies have the University of California at San Francisco, Stanford University, UC-Berkeley and, to some extent, Cal Tech. Boston has Harvard University and MIT. Seattle has the University of Washington. Research Triangle Park is relatively near Duke and the University of North Carolina. Buffalo, NY, cites the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, as well as the University of New York at Buffalo with its strong departments of chemistry, engineering, and bioinformatics.
Having worldclass researchers nearby fosters an intellectual climate in which ideas are exchanged easily and partnerships are developed. Consequently, both business and academia are strengthened. “The combination of abilities to do innovative work is a powerful stimulus,” Panetta says.
MaRS is another good example. Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the MaRS facility is less than a mile from five major teaching hospitals, the Ontario legislature, and the University of Toronto. More than two dozen research institutes and Toronto’s financial district are also nearby.
“Collaboration is the essence of the new economy,” insists Ross Wallace, director of strategic partnerships at MaRS. “There’s a new focus on the power of institutions to generate intellectual property and ideas, and then build around them.”
Consequently, MaRS is a vertical incubator, with a wide variety of companies and stages of development. That mix helps companies better understand the conditions that foster growth. MaRS is home to more than 65 organizations, including The Hospital for Sick Children, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Merck Frosst Canada, the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Celtic House Venture Partners, AIM Therapeutics, and AstraZeneca Canada.