In Irving, Hundreds Gather To Hear The Potential For Biotech In North Texas

Hundreds of North Texans filed into the Marriott Las Colinas last week for the first ever regional biotechnology summit, which highlighted the potential for Dallas-Fort Worth to blossom into a major locale for the industry—if its players help make it so.

The close to 300 attendees at the iC3 Life Science Summit heard over and over that collaboration among various institutions, instead of operating as silos, will make Texas a competent competitor against both the east and west coasts.

“One of the great advantages of an organization like BioNorthTX is it brings institutions together around a common purpose and it really helps us really understand and put in framework that it’s not Fort Worth against Dallas, it’s really Texas versus Massachusetts, California, Singapore, India, Brazil,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, Senior Fellow of the Health Policy Institute at the Texas Medical Center.

Giroir, who led the state’s task force against infectious diseases after the Ebola scare, said the future is bright for biotechnology in North Texas. But he emphasized that isn’t going to come overnight and urged Texas institutions to overcome barriers to work together.

BioNorthTX is a nonprofit trade association for the life sciences industry in North Texas. Everyone from students to company presidents gathered in learning of the prospect of growing this industry throughout the region. In addition to all the pleas to work together, the attendees got a look at the current state of the industry. They heard how to build a successful life science company, and received advice on attracting talent to North Texas.

Panelists reminded the room to harness the strength of Dallas’ research institutions, including UT Southwestern Medical Center and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

The vital aspects to building and growing a successful life science company include locating the company in a business friendly environment near intellect and academic force, such as universities and other research institutions, and attracting and maintaining talent and investors.

“Building a biotech hub is not a zero sum game. This is not like the NFL where you have to go steal a franchise from one city and bring it to another city,” said James Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Numerous biotech hubs are located near institutions of higher education, Greenwood added. Texas is home to many noteworthy universities that create intellectual property. The first step in growing life science companies is the formation of exceptional institutions, which Texas already possesses, Greenwood and others emphasized.

“Institutions like UT Southwestern have amazing science. It’s not well covered by east or west coast vc [venture capital] firms in the biotech space and so they are some really interesting development assets that can be the foundation for a really great company,” said Warren Huff, CEO of Reata Pharmaceuticals in Irving.

Talent in Texas is growing according to Natalie Lundsteen, Director of Graduate Career Development at UT Southwestern. Lundsteen excitedly discussed how UT Southwestern aims to encourage students and post-doctorates to pursue career paths that fit their strengths and preferences. Lundsteen said she thinks UT Southwestern is “poised to be globally known.” The great universities in Texas attract outstanding students and faculty from all over the globe, but Texas has not been as successful, according to Lundsteen, in keeping these students in Texas after graduation.

“Texas is very difficult because it’s just limited— it’s a limited pool of opportunities for scientists in particular. I always kind a give a little sigh when a student or post-doc says I want to stay in the Dallas area,” she said. “They want to stay here because it’s a great place to live, and it’s cheap, and it’s warm, and there’s good schools, and it’s a booming economy. So we can’t lose our scientists; we have to encourage BioNorthTX to continue to attract the industry and the infrastructure.”

Although Texas may be somewhat limited in keeping students, it “is top ranked for the employment of biotech-related scientists and doctorate holders,” according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s in-house marketing materials. UT Southwestern, for instance, employs 13,800 employees, has six Nobel Prize winners on faculty, on a nearly $2.3 billion operating budget.

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