Originally created 04/21/01

Biotech pointers shared



There stood most of Augusta's biotechnology industry - half a dozen men in dark suits standing in a semi-circle, carrying companies in various stages of developments.

Facing them Friday were more than a dozen Augusta community leaders, wondering how they could make the men multiply.

At the monthly meeting of the Georgia Medical Center Authority, scientist entrepreneurs briefed authority members on how their companies started and where they were going.

For most, it is a search for capital and lots of it. Or it is a search for business acumen. Possibly a business incubator facility or later on a research park. Providing those services might be something the authority decides to do when it meets for a strategic retreat at its meeting next month.

"It's really a good time for the authority to spend some time talking about our plans and our direction," said authority Chairman William A. Bloodworth, the president of Augusta State University.

But first things first - figure out where the money is coming from, said Robert K. Oldham, the chief executive officer of Cancer Therapeutics Inc., a biotech company he began in 1991 in Nashville and later moved to Augusta.

"I think their main question is how much money are they going to have," Dr. Oldham said."You know, no money, no mission."

The authority received an initial $1 million grant from Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. but has yet to identify additional funding or what priority it will choose. If, for instance, the authority decides it wants to use its ability to issue bonds, it will take a lot of work and should really be decided next month, said authority Director Cathy Slade.

"There's a lot of work to be done between now and the legislative session," she said. The authority also needs to coordinate planning with Medical College of Georgia, which wants to build a new research building that will have some amount of incubator space for scientists wanting to test the commercial value for their ideas, said MCG Vice President for Research Matthew Kluger.

Nurturing a biotech company means different things at different times. Take, for example, Jerry Buccafusco, the director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at MCG. A couple of years ago, Dr. Buccafusco worked out a deal to lease unused time with the primates he works with for testing for private companies. With no advertising, gross revenues went from $30,000 last year to $400,000 in the first few months of this year. What Dr. Buccafusco needs, he said, is someone to write him a business plan and run things so he can continue devoting himself to science. And there are a lot of scientists in a similar situation at MCG.

The ideal would be "to have that infrastructure available so we could still be scientists and yet see our ideas help folks at an economic level in Georgia or do things to help fund our programs," Dr. Buccafusco said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.