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Can This Region Become the Country’s Next Big Biotech Hub for Jobs?

6/28/2017 1:13:49 PM

Can This Region Become the Country’s Next Big Biotech Hub for Jobs? July 6, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Will Texas become the next big biotech hub? Texans—known for thinking big, whether with tall tales or otherwise—would like to think so. Austin, after all, repeatedly has ranked as a top city for tech jobs, having hit the number one spot on Forbes’ 2015 list. And where tech jobs appear, biotech jobs often follow.
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The two biggest biotech hubs in the U.S. are Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. According to MassBio, in Massachusetts in 2015, about 63,026 people were employed by biopharma. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in the same year, 47,986 people were employed by biopharma in California.

And Texas? In 2015, 11,140.

Other sources put all those numbers significantly higher, depending on how biopharma jobs are defined.

That said, STAT noted that in 2016, almost 200 life science companies had opened within a 25-mile radius of Austin’s State Capitol building. Most of them are small startups, but the University of Texas at Austin brings in about $60 million annually in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And the state has brought in around $1 billion in federal research funding.

“The stage is set,” said Thomas Kowalski to the Chronicle. Kowalski, president and chief executive officer of the Austin-based Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute, noted, “Where we are now based on where we were, the growth is phenomenal.”

Signs of Growth

One big indicator is that Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) opened a Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JNJ) JLABS in Houston last year. It is a state-of-the-art, 340,000-sqare-foot business incubator near the Texas Medical Center’s main campus. It offers lab space, equipment and consultation for biopharma startups.

Another factor is the number of bioscience patents issued by Texas companies. In 2015, there were 1,196, up from 980 three years prior to that.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is currently in a 10-year project to infuse $3 billion in tax dollars to researchers and life science startups. About a quarter of that money comes from Texas private investors, and about half comes from outside the state.

In 2015, Austin’s Mirna Therapeutics (MIRN) and XBiotech (XBIT) went public, raising $44 million and $76 million, respectively. Aeglea BioTherapeutics (AGLE) also went public in the last year.

And the University of Texas at Austin opened the new Dell Medical School in 2016, which also undoubtedly will help encourage the growth of local and regional startups. In 2016, there were about 200 biotech and medical technology companies in Austin.

Job Examples

Here are six examples of current biopharma jobs in Texas.

1. Development Associate III, Virus Development, Bellicum Pharmaceuticals in Houston. Bellicum (BLCM) is located in the Houston Medical Center, and is a clinical stage pharma company focused on discovering and developing novel cellular immunotherapies to treat cancer. This candidate will work within the company’s manufacturing group to develop industrial processes for the company’s virus production programs.

2. Respiratory Biologics Sales Specialist, AstraZeneca, Fort Worth. AstraZeneca (AZN) is headquartered in Cambridge, UK with an extensive portfolio of pharmaceutical products in cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infectious diseases, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation. The person in this position will develop superior product and disease state knowledge and effectively educate and engage healthcare professionals in dialogue about clinical evidence, approved indications, and product efficacy/safety profiles to support on-label prescribing for Respiratory Biologics and appropriate patients.

3. District Manager – Depomed (DEPO), Dallas. Headquartered in Newark, Calif., Depomed (DEPO) focuses on products for neurology, pain, and central nervous system diseases. The candidate will demonstrate clear and thorough understanding of the CNS and Pain marketplace; relevant competitive products and the disease area.

4. Vice President, Oncology Clinical development, Austin., Aeglea BioTherapeutics. Aeglea BioTherapeutics (AGLE) is headquartered in Austin and focuses on developing engineered human enzymes for the treatment of genetic rare diseases and cancers associated with abnormal amino acid metabolism. This position reports to the chief medical officer and will provide the overall strategic clinical direction and medical leadership for oncology development-stage programs.

5. Research Assistant, Bioo Scientific, Austin. Calling for an individual with a Bachelor of Art or Science or Associate degree in biology, molecular biology, biochemistry or a related discipline, the company wants a candidate to construct and analyze NGS libraries, develop an analytical pipeline for amplicon panels development, and assist in data analysis and presentation. Bioo is the fifth-ranked biomedical employer in Austin.

6. Scientist II, Development, Asuragen, Austin. Asuragen is a global molecular diagnostic company with a focus on companion diagnostics. It is headquartered in Austin. This position will be directly responsible for developing, optimizing, and improving the next generation sequencing (NGS)-based workflows used to diagnose genetic diseases and cancer. It calls for a Bachelor or Master’s of Science in analytical chemistry, biochemistry, bioengineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering and a minimum of two to five years of relevant commercial experience.

Lone Star Bio Hotbed

Texas is BioSpace’s Lone Star Bio Hotbed, new since 2015. Companies and institutions in this hotbed include Neos Therapeutics (NEOS), Luminex, the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (LXRX).

“For companies looking for a cheaper home base than San Francisco, San Diego, or Boston, Austin can make economic sense. There’s no state income tax, and Texas offers sales tax credits for some research and development expenses. Boosters also tout the good weather and youthful energy of Austin,” STAT notes.

And although Austin is booming, it’s worth noting that Dallas and Houston are significantly bigger metros. The Austin metropolitan area has a population of about 1 million. Dallas and Houston metro areas are each about 6 million.

At the beginning of this year, the Bioscience Incubator at the Highland campus of Austin Community College opened. Part of the plan was in response to a shortage of lab space in Central Texas. It is the tech startup incubator of the IC2 Institute of The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Life-Sciences Collaboration Center. ATI works with seed and pre-seed-stage companies. Over the last decade, ATI companies have raised over $750 million. The Texas Life-Science Collaboration Center is a non-profit that recruits and retains post-incubator biotech and life-science companies to Georgetown, Texas.

The Bioscience Incubator has 4,000 square feet of wet labs, two ISO 8 clean rooms, open workspace, conference space, and support offices. Although not as dramatic as JLABS, it suggests a more grassroots support of biotech development.

Although Texas probably has a way to go before it can compete with Boston and San Francisco, the pump appears to be primed by top academic institutions, state support, investors, infrastructure and a dynamic economy.

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