States push biotech research funding

June 18, 2008

By hammersmith

[Source: Ken Alltucker, The Arizona Republic] – One day after signing a $1 billion biotech initiative for his state, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday said it is critical for states to commit funding during tough economic times to build and sustain a research-based economy.

Patrick said it takes “political will and courage to make those long-term commitments” and to show scientists around the globe that a region is serious about funding research.

“I know the world is small, change is constant and competition is fierce. People come from all over the world to replicate the advantage we have,” said Patrick, who co-billed a keynote discussion at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual convention on how state governments can foster biotech research

Patrick shared the stage with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose state spearheaded an effort to recruit the prestigious Scripps Research Institute to Florida in 2004. Florida’s biotech efforts are often compared to Arizona’s bioscience goals because both states sought to jump-start their economies by luring a major research institution.

In addition to speaking at the conference, Patrick was named the BIO 2008 governor of the year, which recognizes a state leader’s vision and support of the biosciences industry. Patrick assumed the award from last year’s winner, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.

The Massachusetts bill comes at a time when Arizona and other state governments are grappling with sharp budget deficits and considering cuts to research, among other areas.

Arizona bioscience leaders have urged state lawmakers to preserve funding for projects such as the biomedical campus in downtown Phoenix and Science Foundation Arizona.

They say it is important for Arizona to foster growth of research and other white-collar jobs to diversify the state’s economy and avoid the type of economic slump Arizona now faces due to its real-estate woes.

Patrick said that Massachusetts has a long history of innovation and therefore maintains an edge over other states seeking to grow science jobs. That is in part due to the state’s highly educated workforce and prestigious universities, such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He said his state’s funding commitment, in part, is a defensive measure to ensure Massachusetts universities, companies and research institutes retain top scientists and biotech companies.

Bush echoed Patrick’s call for sustained funding. Florida committed more than $300 million in federal economic-development funds to land Scripps in 2004, a move that was deemed controversial at the time.

Like Arizona, Florida once had little in the way of existing biotech companies, when it landed the biomedical research institute Scripps Florida, a division of La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps.

Arizona and the city of Phoenix committed millions for a state-of-the-art research lab and startup costs for the Translational Genomics Research Institute, also known as TGen.

Bush said Florida’s decision has paid big economic dividends with a cluster of biotech companies and research institutes settling there.

Other West Coast research institutes have followed Scripps to Florida, including Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, SRI International and Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
Large pharmaceutical companies have taken notice, too, with Merck & Co. establishing a for-profit research venture with H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute of Tampa.

The state now boasts nearly 600 biotech, pharmaceutical and medical-device companies.

He said the decision to commit such a large amount of up-front money helped the state avoid cost-cutting that often occurs during slumping economic times.

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