Biotech Puts Down Roots in Virginia, Too

Virginia is attempting to compete with the third largest biotech state in the country, Maryland

P> The Virginia Biotechnology Association is busting out of its seams, the Center for Innovative Technology is publishing a 120-page directory of biotech companies in Virginia, the American Type Culture Collection just moved to Prince William County, American Home Products has claimed Richmond with two large pharmaceutical companies and the Virginia Biotech Research Park is near full capacity.

It's working.

Virginia wanted some of Maryland's biotechnology market, and it succeeded. Through the state's efforts to attract biotech companies, the eastern biotech corridor from Boston to North Carolina is now home to 52 percent of the nation's pharmaceutical industry.

When the American Type Culture Collection announced it was leaving Rockville, Md., after 30 years, Kaye Sloan Breen recalled that Maryland was in shock.

"Maryland has always been known for life sciences and Virginia for death sciences, with their large concentration of defense companies," said Breen, vice president of corporate development for ATCC. "There was a question of [Maryland] taking us for granted."

It's no secret that Virginia sits next to the third largest concentration of biotechnology companies in the country. And in Virginia's most recent economic development plan, Opportunity Virginia, the state set its agenda to attract the biotech industry. And why not? The return on investment, in terms of education and salaries, is one of the highest in the country. So for the last five years, biotech has migrated to Virginia from all over the East Coast.

In 1992, the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park was launched in Richmond by a public/private partnership of universities, government and industry to commercialize biotech discoveries. The area holds 65 research-oriented biomedical/biotechnology ventures in Virginia and is located next to the Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Campus.

It sits on 12 acres, 1.5 million square feet of which will generate more than $180 million in capital investments and employ as many as 3,000. The $20 million facility houses companies such as B.I. Chemicals Inc., Managed Care Resources Inc. and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The park established biotech in Virginia, and the push continued.

When American Type Culture Collection, a 71-year-old business that carries a microscopic collection of bacteria, fungi, yeasts and protozoa, announced it was moving to Virginia, state economic developers beamed. In 1994, ATCC realized it had reached full capacity in Rockville. It requested bids for land expansion and received responses from states in the Midwest, Virginia and Maryland.

Virginia offered a collaborative deal between Prince William County and George Mason University. The county had the land to offer, and the university had the research opportunities. So when ATCC announced its plan to move, the Herndon, Va.-based Center for Innovative Technology received dozens of calls from Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey about potential deals from Virginia.

"Commercial research and academic research used to be very separate," said Breen. "The willingness to blend the two is very inviting for an institution like ATCC."

ATCC provides 225 jobs, pays $8 million in salaries per year and makes more than $2 million in annual purchases from local companies. According to a study by Roy L. Pearson of the College of William and Mary, ATCC indirectly will create an additional 252 jobs in Prince William County. It also will bring $19 million in capital construction investments to the county. ATCC will have its 100,000-square-foot research center ready in November 1997.

GMU is also building a 100,000-square-foot microbiology technology institute where ATCC will lease 50,000 square feet by March 1998. Virginia expects ATCC to be a magnet for other biotechnology companies such as Whitehall Robins.

Whitehall Robins Healthcare is the $1.4 billion pharmaceutical research and development arm of American Products, a producer of over-the-counter drugs.

Whitehall formed in 1989 after a merger between A.H. Robins and Whitehall. A.H. Robins has existed as a pharmaceutical company in Richmond since the 1830s. Whitehall recently announced that it will move its research division in Hameton, N.J., to Richmond to house scientists under one roof.

"The city and the state were as aggressive as any other state in attracting our business," said Robert Norman, manager of public affairs for Whitehall-Robins Healthcare.

Virginia pitched features such as accessibility to mass transportation, lower tax rates, a better quality of life and lower construction costs.

There are approximately 400 Whitehall employees in Richmond, and approximately 150 more will move from New Jersey in the next two years.

Robert Schwartz, industry director of biotechnology and biomedical applications at the Center for Innovative Technology, recalled that 10 years ago when he started to target biotechnology in Virginia, there were only 12 companies in the state. Today, Virginia has 80 companies dedicated to biotechnology or biomedical applications."We're still a very young industry," said Schwartz.

Five years ago, the Virginia Economic Development office and the Center for Innovative Technology began a series of networking breakfasts in Richmond for established biotech companies. Those companies then formed the Virginia Biotechnology Association in 1992. Four years later, the association, which is run by volunteers, cannot keep up with the demand of its 100 members.

Hollister Lindley, president of the association, focuses the organization to deal with the regulatory issues and coordinate development initiatives. Lindley said the biotech industry sprouted in 1991 when Virginia repealed a law that prevented state institutions from commercializing its discoveries.

"The advantage of the region forming so late was that while other states tried to get a hold on biotech, Virginia got to watch," said Lindley.

So what's next?

Lindley said the biotech region in Virginia is in its teen-age years. The state is established with its research firms and pharmaceutical companies, but still needs the infrastructure companies to support them.

Virginia expects biotech growth to continue as companies are attracted to research magnets and universities there.

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