Katie Whitchurch

At a luncheon earlier today in Phoenix, the 2011 Progress on Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap was unveiled. A joint project between Flinn Foundation and statewide leaders in science, business and policy, the Bioscience Roadmap has sought to advance Arizona as a global leader in the biosciences industry. Over the course of the last 10 years, their investment has seen rapid growth in the research, development and production of bioscience related products and lifesaving technology. The numbers speak for themselves:

 

  • 41% – The growth rate of bioscience related jobs created in Arizona between 2002 – 2010. The national average? 11%. This extraordinary growth occurred despite the ongoing Great Recession, with the bioscience industry recording a 2009-10 jobs growth rate of 7.4% while the overall private sector in Arizona lost 1.8%. Currently, over 96,000 individuals are employed by the bioscience industry in Arizona.
  • 27% – The growth rate of bioscience firms in Arizona since 2002 bringing the total number to 867.
  • $55,000+ – The average wage for an employee in the bioscience industry; 29% above the Arizona average.
  • $28,800,000 – The annual revenue generated by the biosciences industry. Altogether this results in $1.1 billion in revenue through state and local taxes.
  • 95% – The progress that has been made toward achieving the 19 action items recommended by Battelle in 2002. As the world’s largest independent research and development organization, Battelle has provided ongoing research and facilitation support to the Bioscience Roadmap team.

 

Martin Shultz, Chair of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, applauded Arizona Leaders, three governors, school officials, the private sector, very important researchers, Arizona agriculture, healthcare provides, among many others for their commitment and long term investments. The Roadmap represents real accomplishment. But what is next for this important sector of our economy and what can Arizona do to encourage further investment and development?

Science and technology has been identified by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) as one of the four core sectors of the Arizona economy. Their continued promotion of the state as an ideal location for R&D and production will be critical to relocating businesses in Arizona. Jaime Molera, a member of the Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, elaborated upon potential selling points for companies looking to set-up shop in Arizona thusly: “What we have is a very strong business climate; a climate that was strengthened by the passage of last year’s Economic Competitiveness Package. When you combine that with the presence of strong research capabilities from our universities, you have the potential for a strong bioscience industry.” According to Molera, the cornerstones for a solid future already exist – the choice is now ours whether to continue down the path toward future expansion and growth.

According to a recent article from In Business magazine, Brad Halvorsen of the Flinn Foundation cites one of the primary reasons for investment are the clusters forming within Arizona, which provides the opportunity to collaborate with global leaders.

“Many want to locate close to a major research university, such as ASU or UA, and others want to be close to research institutes such as TGen, a research hospital, or alike companies,” Halvorsen says. The opportunities for partnerships between private industry and research institutions in these clusters are critical to the further development of lifesaving and sustaining technologies. For an example, look no further than Tucson-based Ventana Medical Systems. Created in 1985 by University of Arizona Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Grogan, Ventana “pioneered the automation and standardization of tissue biopsy testing…[growing] to be the world’s leading developer and manufacturer of tissue-based diagnostic instruments and tests focused on the detection of cancer.” In 2008, Ventana was purchased for $3.4 billion by the internationally recognized Roche Group.

Likewise, continued investment in STEM education will be critical to ensuring a workforce that is ready to meet the demands of the continued firm growth in the state. Representatives Heather Carter and Kimberly Yee have recognized this fact and have introduced legislation in an effort to position Arizona’s educational institutions for tomorrow’s economy.

Additionally, it is important to note that future growth will be heavily reliant on continued support for the people, money and infrastructure necessary to create and maintain bioscience jobs. A recent outline from the Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee identified aggressive workforce-development, support for competitive academic and private research programs, a robust network of risk-capital funders, tax policies to maximize opportunities and leading-edge infrastructure as key components to ensuring that the numbers unveiled today continue their path upward.

On Saturday, the Arizona Republic ran a story highlighting the newest addition to Arizona’s bioscience industry, a supercomputer near Sky Harbor “…that one day is expected to store clinical-research reports, medical records and the decoded genetic makeup of millions of patients and their cancers.” The brainchild of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and the CSS Institute for Advanced Health, the cache of medical information would revolutionize the delivery of cancer treatments and ensure that patients are receiving the most appropriate care.

In the ten years since the bioscience initiative was created, the state has witnessed the creation of ASU’s Biodesign Institute, the partnership of a medical school between ASU and Mayo Clinic, the expansion of W.L. Gore into Phoenix, countless partnerships and projects undertaken by TGen, and an influx of NIH grants. The creation of the supercomputer in Arizona is simply one more notch for the bioscience industry and one more reason for world-class leaders like Dr. Soon-Shiong to continue bringing industry to the state.

By continuing to invest in this important sector, Arizona can prepare for a second century of statehood as an economy at the forefront of lifesaving research, development and production.