Originally created 09/23/04

Georgia reinforces role in field of life sciences



ATLANTA - An antibiotic that prevents infection for premature babies. A pill that reduces fatty plaque deposits in arteries. A patch that delivers vaccines through the skin instead of a needle.

These are some of the products being developed in Georgia's burgeoning life sciences industry, and officials in state government and research universities say they are determined to add more to the mix.

But strengthening Georgia's toehold in the bioscience field will take more work and investment to compete with other states, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday during a daylong summit of company representatives, academics and economic developers.

"We still have big needs to fill," he said at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. "Attracting world-class scientists is a must, but they need world-class labs to do their best work, and beyond that we need the commercial, biomanufacturing facilities that will keep growing companies in Georgia."

The annual summit, put on by the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, drew 640 attendees to discuss how the state can expand its life science presence by helping startups and attracting out-of-state companies.

Bolstered by a recent report that showed the state has advanced in national rankings of biotechnology activity, officials with the partnership said the state is establishing itself as a leader in the field.

"The Southeast is a major player," said Russell Medford, the vice chairman of the biomedical partnership. "Our growth is leading us to a major position in the entire industry over the next five years."

Ernst & Young's annual report released a few months ago showed Georgia as the eighth largest for biotechnology business in the country, up from ninth place last year.

The state has about 60 biotechnology companies. The nation's leading biotechnology center - California - has 400.

While much of Georgia's industry has been centered in the Atlanta area, Augusta and Athens have pushed efforts to establish their own positions in the field.

The Medical College of Georgia expects its life sciences incubator to be full by the end of the year. The new facility provides wet lab and office space for five entrepreneurs, helping them translate research into business.

Michael Gabridge, who serves as MCG's associate vice president for technology transfer and economic development in addition to the executive director for the business incubator, said MCG's niche is to target health care-related companies, which keeps it from competing with other areas in the state.

"If you were in agriculture, you'd want to be in Athens," he said. "If you were in cytogenetics, I'd send you to Greenville, S.C. But if you're in the life health care sciences, I think we've got a tremendous amount to offer."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 589-8424 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

BIOTECH STATES

Ernst & Young's 2004 rankings of the largest bioscience centers in the country showed Georgia has moved up one spot from last year to eighth place. Here are the top 10 states:

1. California
2. Massachusetts
3. North Carolina
4. Maryland
5. New Jersey
6. New York
7. Texas
8. Georgia
9. Pennsylvania
10. Washington