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May 1, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 9)

Emerging Biotechnology Clusters

Experienced Management and VCs and a Serial Entrepreneurial Culture Provide Critical Keys to Success

  • United States

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    Biogen Idec is one of many companies with research facilities in the San Diego area.

    Home to many top biotech clusters, nearly every state is hoping to become a player in the biotech field. Thought leaders like Florida’s chances. Several leading institutes are located in the state including the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, Scripps Florida, SRI International, and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.

    Also, East Coast researchers often are familiar with Florida, so attracting senior researchers as full-time residents isn’t difficult.  The Innovation Incentive Fund, however, was slashed at the end of fiscal 2008. The additional challenge is to grow companies through spin-offs from these and other institutions.

    Colorado also has strong potential, with continued high levels of state funding for start-up companies and research intuitions. Precommercialization funding grants are capped at $250 million for companies from a five-year, $26.5 million program. Additional funding also is available.  Clusters are forming in Denver and Boulder, but the nascent firms tend to be acquired by larger companies before reaching maturity.

  • Also Worth a Look

    In the U.S., additional emerging cluster contenders include Madison, Wisconsin; Orange County, California; and Houston, Texas. Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin, which has a strong life sciences program, and the region has a specialized job concentration in pharmaceuticals; medical devices; agricultural feedstocks, chemicals, and research; and testing and medical laboratories, according to BIO.

    Orange County is known for its medical devices, but increasingly is adding biotech to its list of strengths, according to Tim Ingersoll at BioCom. Houston has more than 120 biotech organizations and is home to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, a prominent neuroscience center. 

    Australia has more than 400 companies, mostly clustered in Sydney and Melbourne.  Major contributions are coming out of the University of Queensland and other universities. Like many regions, it had been hit hard by the economic downturn and many sources of government funding have disappeared.

    Malaysia has a growing bioinformatics sector, and industry experts say several companies there have gained funding recently from a leading U.S. capital fund. The government favors growing the biotech industry, so the industry is gaining traction.

    In Europe, Barcelona, Ghent, and Montpelier, France, are benefitting from significant government interest and proximity to leading universities. And Scotland, whose biocluster is composed of more than 620 life science companies, is one of the continent’s largest and fastest-growing life science clusters—generating more than $4.4 billion (£3 billion) annually.

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