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August 2009

By Tracey Lamphere

Life Sciences Thrive in Texas

West Texas reaches for share of biotech.

Abilene was born as a railroad stop for 19th-century cattle ranchers – but wants a future in biotechnology.

“It’s one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the state economy,” says Richard Burdine, chief executive officer for the Development Corporation of Abilene (DCOA). “The average annual wage is much higher than in manufacturing.”

The DCOA has committed $3 million over five years to a newly established Center for Immunotherapeutic Research housed at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Pharmacy in Abilene. Participating scientists and faculty members will research biotechnological applications that could detect and fight disease.

Abilene is one of many Texas cities looking to capture more of the booming life sciences industry, which in 2008 generated $75 billion in the Texas economy, according to a 2009 report by the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute (THBI).

Full of Life

The life sciences industry – including research and testing, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing, biotechnology and agricultural feedstocks – directly employed about 71,000 Texans in 2008. In that year, THBI reports that the industry directly or indirectly supported 236,000 jobs with wages of about $31 billion.

Although North Texas and the Gulf Coast region together account for 72 percent of the state’s life sciences jobs, West Texas is gaining momentum. The region’s employment in the life sciences has risen by 16 percent since 2003, to about 3,500 jobs, a rate that outpaced job growth in the nation and the state as a whole. Research and testing activities represent more than half of the region’s life science jobs. That sector’s total employment has risen by nearly 50 percent over the past five years.

Prosperous Partnerships

A number of Texas universities are partnering with private industry to spur research and commercial development. In Dallas, for instance, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is building a 500,000 square-foot Bio-Center, an industrial park intended to attract biotech companies to North Texas.

“Ninety-five percent of biotechnology companies are founded on university-based inventions,” says Dr. Dennis Stone, vice president for technology development at UT Southwestern, “so it makes eminent sense to have the development center in immediate proximity to the scientists who are creating new technologies.”

In Abilene, DCOA and city leaders see biotech research and commercial development as a way to diversify the area’s economy. With TTUHSC, they have created the Abilene Life Sciences Accelerator (ALSA), a 22,000 square-foot biotech company incubator. Scheduled to open in December, it will allow fledgling companies to lease laboratory space and share research equipment to defray their startup costs.

“It doesn’t matter how good the science is if it can’t get out of the laboratory and into the marketplace,” Burdine says.

Tenants will license discoveries made at the health sciences center and other universities for product development. ALSA’s first tenant, Receptor Logic, expects to create 40 new research jobs with average annual salaries of $50,000 to $60,000. At full capacity, ALSA should generate a total of 150 jobs with an annual payroll of $9 to $13 million.

Growing the Future

To continue its biotech initiative, Abilene has expanded its training and educational options. In 2008, the Abilene Independent School District opened a medical magnet high school on the campus of Hardin-Simmons University. McMurry University will begin offering a four-year degree in the biomedical sciences in fall 2009. And the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recently approved a two-year biotechnology technician associate degree to be offered by Cisco College.

These moves follow TTUHSC’s recent expansion of its School of Pharmacy in Abilene, which now has a 40,000 square-foot campus. By the start of the 2010-2011 academic year, Abilene should be home to 160 pharmacy students.

The future of the life sciences in Texas looks promising, with a projected increase of 12 percent or 8,300 jobs over the next five years. Today, the state accounts for 5 percent of the life science-related jobs in the U.S. And according to THBI, a $3 billion cancer initiative approved by Texas voters in 2007 should increase the state’s share of U.S. research and development funding from 7 percent to 8 percent, which could translate to 12,000 additional jobs for Texas. FN

Read the full 2009 Life Sciences Industry Profile.

Life Sciences Job Growth by Texas Region

see table at the end of the article

Regional Patterns

North Texas leads the state’s regions in life-sciences employment, but the Rio Grande region experienced the biggest percentage growth between 2003 and 2008.

Source: Texas Healthcare & Bioscience Institute

Life Sciences Job Growth by Texas Region

Share of Total Regional Job Growth, 2003-2008
Region Total Life Sciences Job Growth, 2003-2008 Number of Jobs in 2008
Central Texas2%4,600
El Paso 24% 800
Gulf Coast 14% 21,900
North Texas 13% 24,500
Rio Grande 28% 1,200
South Texas 10% 7,200
West Texas 16% 3,500

Source: Texas Healthcare & Bioscience Institute

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