For the second straight year, North Carolina ranks third behind California and Massachusetts as a biotechnology powerhouse. In fact, North Carolina continues to be the "leading center in the Southeast for biotechnology," according to Ernst & Young's Global Biotechnology Report 2005.
The state's 225 life science companies employ 40,000 people in a variety of biotechnology, drug discovery, lab testing, and biomanufacturing facilities.
Large pharmaceutical firms anchor the industry, including GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, and Biogen Idec. Both technology and management know-how migrate from these large firms to spinoff companies. At least a dozen startups sprung from GlaxoSmithKline, including those developing new drugs and contract research organizations.
Much of the activity centers in Research Triangle Park, bordered by Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham, home to the University of North Carolina (UNC), Duke University, and North Carolina State.
"About half the state's biotech companies are spinoffs of university research," says Barry Teater, director of corporate communications at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (www.ncbiotech.org) in Research Triangle Park.
The state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center, created in 1981, was the nation's first state initiative in biotechnology. Today the Center promotes economic development by assisting companies with financing, networking, and technology advice. Life science companies also are growing around Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
Research Triangle Park is one of the country's oldest technology parks, started after World War II to create technical jobs to stop the brain drain of graduates from local universities. The first tenants were computer, chemical, and engineering companies. GlaxoSmithKline (then Burroughs Wellcome) was the first drug company to move to the Park in 1970, and the current facility employs 5,000 people.
The 7,000-acre campus employs 40,000 people, and about 10,000 of them work in life science companies. There's still room to grow, and Research Triangle Park "will peak at 90,000 workers," says Rick Weddle, president of Research Triangle Foundation (www.rtp.org), which develops and markets the Park worldwide.
When companies worldwide are looking to expand "we're on the short list," says Weddle. Research Triangle Park, which serves as a model for others starting technology parks, faces the unique distinction of mapping its next 50-year growth cycle.
Future plans include combining bioinformatics and life science efforts. As other states build their first biotechnology parks, "we're trying to decide what to become next," says Weddle.
"Biotechnology is incredibly important to North Carolina," says Lisa Rowe-Ralls, vp of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (www.cednc.org), a private, non-profit economic development group.
In the last five years, North Carolina lost 100,000 textile and furniture manufacturing jobs. The Council for Entrepreneurial Development coordinates efforts to retrain people to work in biomanufacturing. The state's $60 million tobacco settlement is funding programs at community colleges and universities to work in all aspects of biomanufacturing.
"We're applying our strong manufacturing work force to the life science industry," says Rowe-Ralls.
With those new skills, workers should have no problem finding jobs. The biomanufacturing sector is booming in North Carolina. "The combined chemical, pharmaceutical, and medical device manufacturing sector employs 20,000 people," says Teater.
To encourage more growth, a $36 million Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center is under construction at North Carolina State University. The 91,000-sq-ft facility will open in 2007 to train 2,000 to 3,000 students yearly in an innovative training project. The facility also will attract new biomanufacturing, pharmaceutical, and agribiotechnology companies.
Diosynth Biotechnology (www.diosynth.com), an 80-year veteran of biologics manufacturing, has two facilities in Research Triangle Park. Both facilities are dedicated to cGMP biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing and process development services of monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, and recombinant proteins.
The cGMP manufacuring facilities include cGMP fermentation and cell culture manufacturing suites up to the 2,000-L production scale. The process-development facilities include separate suites for fermentation and cell culture, downstream processing, protein analysis, and product formulation development laboratories. Separate suites are provided for cGMP stability testing and product storage.
"Our goal is to increase the value of our customers' pipeline and products. We help our customers succeed by driving products efficiently, rapidly and cost-effectively from preclinical development to market supply," says Anitra Johnson, marketing and sales associate at Diosynth.