FORT WORTH TEAMS UP FOR BIOTECH
With all the changes in the economy, failures of leading companies and cautiousness of investors, biotechnology remains a hot commodity. More than a fourth of BusinessWeekâ??s June 2002 â??Top 100 Growth Companiesâ? list are medical and biomedical technology companies. Cities around the nation are vying for a piece of the biotechnology industry, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area is no exception.
A business development team composed of representatives from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth MedTech Center and Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce joined other major Texas cities in showing off the state to a global biotechnology market. In June, the team, called BIO Fort Worth, traveled to Toronto to exhibit at BIO 2002. BIO is considered the worldâ??s largest biotechnology conference, with 15,000 participants and more than 750 exhibitors.
â??The team did a truly great job of marketing Fort Worth and all we have to offer in way of location, collaboration and scientific workforce,â? said Robert Gracy, PhD, associate vice president for research and biotechnology at UNT Health Science Center, who headed the Fort Worth teamâ??s effort. â??Now, we have lots of follow-up to do.â?
BIO Fort Worth joined 21 other cities, four corporations, the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute and Texas Office of Economic Development in representing the state at the Texas Pavilion in the exhibit hall.
â??We really went to just get a feel for the conference,â? said Calvin King, vice president of operations for MedTech, a business incubator for medical technology start-up businesses. â??We didnâ??t expect to get business for the incubator this first time around, but we came home with a good lead on a start-up company from west Texas interested in moving to Fort Worth.â? BIO Fort Worth members are following up with more than 150 contacts made during the three-day conference.
Tom Kowalski, president of THBI in Austin, was elected president of an organization representing all the statesâ?? biotechnology programs. â??This will give Texas a great deal more visibility and opportunities next year when BIO 2003 will be held in Washington, DC,â? Dr. Gracy said. â??Weâ??re already beginning to plan for next year.â?
BIO Fort Worth is working with the Health Industry Council, Dallas Life Sciences Group, the North Texas Commission, Texas Office of Economic Development, THBI and others around the state in a concerted effort to attract new biotechnology businesses to Texas, particularly north Texas. The group is also exploring ways to collaborate statewide in research, development of new products, grant opportunities and educational programs.
The City of Fort Worth was the lead supporter of BIO Fort Worthâ??s trip to Toronto. Other sponsors included Austin Commercial, Carter-Burgess, Oncor Energy, Fort Worth Business Press, DynCorp Technical Services, AdvanceMed, GeneLink, Galderma Laboratories, UNT Health Science Centerâ??s Office of Continuing Medical Education, Fisher Scientific, Porous Metal Products, the UNT Health Science Center Foundation, the Health Industry Council, Alcon Laboratories and Whitaker, Chalk, Swindle and Sawyer, LLP.
â??Our game plan was simple: develop an outstanding presentation, send the right people from Fort Worth to meet with the right people from the biotechnology industry and take full advantage of the time we have in front of this market,â? said Carole Myer, director of business development for the chamber.
â??We all benefit from bringing a new industry to Fort Worth,â? Myer said. â??Our city has some of the key pieces many of these companies are looking for, and we believe we have a good â??productâ?? to make the sale.â?
BIO Fort Worth will meet again in August to develop a follow-up plan and start preparing for BIO 2003. It is also exploring new ways for the three partner organizations to interact, with the goal of supporting research initiatives at the health science center, helping start-up companies get their discoveries to the market through the incubator and attracting existing companies to Fort Worth.
â??Companies in the biotechnology industry â?? from start-ups to the large, established companies â?? look for many things when choosing a location, among them quality transportation, low cost of doing business, diverse work force and a strong research presence,â? said Ronald Blanck, DO, health science center president.
â??The health science center and other research institutions in north Texas act as a catalyst for bringing important research to the region and set in motion a self-sustaining business cycle that benefits the entire business community,â? he said. â??Higher education offers companies research space and facilities, scientific expertise with discoveries already in the making, and an educated workforce.
â??The companies, in turn, bring their resources, enhance development of new products invented in our research labs and partner with us in conducting research,â? Dr. Blanck said. â??Job opportunities that grow from this co-existence draw more students to the region. The continuum grows and expands.â?
To help drive Fort Worthâ??s efforts forward, UNT Health Science Center will break ground this fall on a new Biotechnology Center. The center will provide education and research associated with biotechnology, including space for research institutes and a genomics and proteomics core facility. Services to support biotechnology companies and space to house MedTechâ??s medically related start-ups are also planned.
The institution is in the preliminary stages of a capital fundraising campaign for the building project. Initial construction will be financed with $27.5 million in tuition revenue bonds approved by the Texas Legislature in 2001.
The predicted impact on the health science centerâ??s success in biotechnology, if space allows, includes significantly higher research expenditures and enrollment by the year 2010. Research funding can grow to an estimated $35 million, more than double what it is today, without adding any more faculty researchers. The additional space will also allow the institution to accept an additional 280 students.In addition, the institutionâ??s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences has implemented a biotechnology masterâ??s degree program designed to train individuals for careers in the industry by providing the tools and experience needed for highly technical positions offered in biotechnology companies and research institutions.
Students take integrated biomedical sciences courses that provide the breadth and depth needed to understand complex biomedical problems. In addition to training in molecular, cellular, physiological and pharmacological techniques, the students complete an internship in a research or industrial laboratory that forms the basis of the internship practicum.
In the fall, the Fort Worth MedTech Center will begin holding monthly seminars with health science center faculty to take them through the steps of getting their discoveries into the pipeline for development. Professional presenters will provide information on intellectual property law, business planning and other topics pertinent to the business side of product development.
â??The reason UNT Health Science Center was active in the founding of the MedTech incubator was because of the benefits we could bring to the researchers here,â? King said. â??We need to make sure these scientists and physicians know what resources we provide, and what opportunities they have in being a part of moving discoveries from the lab to the market. Weâ??ll see our labors bear fruit to the benefit of the local economy â?? even as we change the world with new cures and treatments for life-threatening illnesses.â?
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