Dr. Leroy Hood, a scientist who knows a thing or two about the biotechnology businesshes had a hand in the creation of a string of successful biotech companies, including Amgen Inc., a $5.5 billion-a-year industry leadersays a city or region must have three main ingredients to build a biotech industry.
First, there must be a university that does basic research, since a lot of the ideas of biotech have to come straight out of academia, the Seattle-based Hood said in a telephone interview last week.
Second, there needs to be a lot of capital available, whether thats from venture capitalists, angel investors, banks, or a combination of the three. Generally, its most effective if some of those (financial) people are in the community and are committed to building the community, he says.
Third, the city or region has to be an attractive place to live, because much of the management expertise for such companies will have to be recruited from elsewhere.
Does Spokane have what it takes?
Hood, a native of Missoula, Mont., says he doesnt know. Im not at all familiar with your area, he says.
That will be remedied to some extent in September, when Hood visits Spokane to deliver the keynote speech at the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerces annual meeting. While hes here, chamber officials are hoping to introduce him to leaders of Spokanes nascent biotech industry.
The chamber views Hoods visit here as a coup, since hes one of the biotech industrys most august personalities.
Hood developed the technology that made possible the landmark human genome project, an effort to map the sequence of human DNA that was completed amid tremendous fanfare. He was recruited to Seattle in 1992 from the California Institute of Technology, a move sparked by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates $12 million gift to the University of Washington to establish a department of molecular biotechnology.
Hood left that position in 2000 to found the Institute for Systems Biology, a Seattle nonprofit research foundation that uses biology, medicine, technology, and computational science to focus on human biology as a whole rather than on individual cells, genes, or proteins.
While he cant speak to Spokanes strengths specifically, Hood says any region that wants to build a biotech economyand many do, because biotech is a clean industry and its employees generally are well paidhad better look to its universities first.
Fostering the growth of strong science in academic centersthat is No. 1 when it comes to building a biotech industry, Hood says.
It is hard to put a new company that isnt intellectually connected to some academic center in a place and have it go by itself, he says.
In Spokanes case, he says a biotech industry here likely would mirror Washington State Universitys research expertise in animal science and plant and molecular biology.
Whats important is to build around your strengths, he says.
In areas where Spokane is lacking, think about what you would like your strengths to be and start moving to change them, Hood suggests. Work on enhancing Spokanes national reputation to attract dollars and talented people, he says.
Spokane, like Seattle, is hampered by the fact that Washington state has an anti-business reputation and that other states can woo industries with tax incentives and loanseconomic-development weapons that arent available in Washington due to constitutional limits here on the use of public funds to attract private enterprises.
Still, those and other hurdles can be overcome, Hood says.
In many ways Seattle is a pretty unattractive place for new startups because of a lack of lab space and office parks where biotech companies can cluster and grow together, and because of its high cost of living and traffic problems, Hood says. Despite those drawbacks, Seattles biotechnology industry is strong because of that citys wonderful academic research institutions, its support for entrepreneurial efforts, and the fact that its an attractive place to live, he says.
Hood says that efforts to build a biotech economy should be applauded.
Its certainly worthwhile for communities to think about how they can make their community attractive to biotech, he says.
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