Hawaii's Boom in Biotech Jobs Lures Top Graduates

Hawaii's Boom in Biotech Jobs Lures Top Graduates September 14, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

When thinking about Hawaii, one doesn’t usually place biotech high on the list. Or on the list at all.

And although it’s unlikely that you could call Hawaii’s biotech industry huge, it is growing. Part of that is due to the state of Hawaii’s efforts to keep talented graduates from leaving the state. After all, if you get a Master’s or PhD in biochemistry or molecular biology from a Hawaii university, where are the jobs? The typical answer is: the mainland. But the state is working to change that.

A recent Hawaii News Now article says, “Some say the situation is improving, thanks largely in part to Hawaii’s growing biotech industry.”

For example, in February 2017, Hawaii Biotech moved into a new research and development lab and headquarters. The new HQ is at former Dole Cannery in Honolulu, a move from the Hawaii Research Center Building in Aiea. The company is the oldest and largest biotech company in Hawaii, although perhaps that’s not saying much. In February, it employed 21 people. Between it and its two spinoffs, they employ 60 people.

The company focuses on developing vaccines for numerous infectious diseases, including West Nile virus, Zika virus, malaria and Dengue fever. Which likely explains why the company has received more than $6 million in annual funding in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since its founding in 1982, the company has received almost $75 million in grant and contract revenues.

At the time, state Representative Colleen Hanabusa told Pacific Business News, “They are the innovators, the creators of the new economy and the jobs that pay more than typical. [The innovation economy] is about investment, equity and having the capital that Hawaii Biotech needs to continue their research, or once they discover something, to be able to take it to market. That’s where the job creation and all of that really begins to happen.”

Two biotech companies have spun off from Hawaii Biotech. One is Cardax Pharmaceuticals . Cardax is developing anti-inflammatory dietary supplements and drugs. Its initial focus is on astaxanthin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory without the side effects of current similar products on the market. Its first commercial product was recently launched, ZanthoSyn, an anti-inflammatory for general health.

Cardax came out of Hawaii Biotech when it acquired the intellectual property and other assets related to astaxanthin in 2006.

The other company was
PanThera Biopharma, which spun off with Science & Technology International, a Honolulu research and development firm. Hawaii Biotech held a 20 percent ownership stake in PanThera.

Teresa Wong left California, where she has worked for 20 years, to become the vice president of Cardax. She told Hawaii News Now, “I didn’t realize there was a life science industry here that was growing. This is really a combination of the best of all worlds. It is a stimulating environment, it’s an exciting company, it’s a team of absolutely world class scientists, and it’s in Hawaii. It doesn’t get better than this!”

Other Hawaiian biotech companies include Tissue Genesis in Honolulu, Cyanotech in Kailua-Kona, and Mera Pharmaceuticals , in Kalaoa. Monsanto also has a presence in Hawaii as do many big biopharma companies, including Takeda Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals .

Examples of Hawaii biopharma jobs include:

Pharmaceutical Sales Specialist for AstraZeneca in Honolulu. This position calls for a Bachelor’s Degree and a least two years of full-time pharmaceutical sales.

Sales Representative, Hawaii North in Waipahu for Takeda Pharmaceuticals. This position calls for a Bachelor’s Degree and at least one year of sales experience.

Biosurgery Medical Science Liaison, West US for Sanofi in Honolulu. This individual would act as a field-based member of the Sanofi Biosurgery Business Unit. It will focus on the osteoarthritis space with additional responsibility to existing Biosurgery product support and development. The position calls for an Advanced Clinical or Science degree or professional credentials such as an MD, PhD, PharmD, PA or NP with relevant experience.

University of Hawaii also has graduate research assistant, research technician and research assistant positions.

Hawaii Biotech notes that there are at least three reasons Hawaii is a good area for the biotech industry. First is the University of Hawaii, which has a new $150 million biomedical research facility, which will house 30 to 40 new biotech researchers. That adds to the more than $50 million in biotechnology-related research already ongoing at the university.

The second is that Hawaii is a clinical trial center for many major pharmaceutical, biotech and contract research organizations (CRO) that are looking to bridge Caucasian and Japanese populations. There are more than 300 clinical trials ongoing in the state.

And finally, the state is a strong center for research into tropical medicine. The John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology is located at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Its Kaka’ako campus, close to downtown Honolulu, has 213,000 square feet of space, as well as 184,142 square feet for research laboratories and gross anatomy facilities.

And, of course, they have the added incentive of being in Hawaii!

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