Bioscience Business in Texas Catching up With Bigger Markets

Texas is still playing catch-up, but is closing ground on other states when it comes to turning life science discoveries into cash. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the state is fostering a growing industry that includes more start up biotechnology ventures, the development of new medical devices and marketing new drugs.

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Traditional life science and biotech powerhouses like Boston and San Diego have a huge head start in turning medical discoveries into marketable products, but Texas is closing the gap. At the Texas Life Science Conference this week here in Houston, more than 300 venture capitalists are looking for Texas companies to invest in. One of those investors is Dr. Evan Melrose, Managing Director of PTV Sciences.

"There certainly are rich resources here. Texas has the spirit of entrepreneurship risk-taking, so what we're seeing now are for the first time some second round and third round entrepreneurs who are folks, a great example is Tanox here locally. Very successful company. Very successful exit. Now you see the seeds from that creating many other little small companies in their back yard."

This is make it or break it time for many small biotech companies that need investor cash to get their products from the bench to the bedside. For Dr. John Criscione, Texas is the new frontier for biosciences. He moved from San Diego to start CorInnova, a small company in College Station developing a device that controls the motion of the heart.

"If you're already successful, San Diego is probably a good place to go, but if you're trying to build things up I think it's much better to do it in an area what wants to grow. So Texas actually has a lot to offer because there's a real growth attitude here and that's what you need."ξ

One of the drivers of the biotech industry in Texas is the Emerging Technology Fund, almost $200 million dollars set aside by lawmakers to help small companies develop products and attract talent. Thomas Kowalski is the president of the Austin-based Texas Healthcare & Bioscience Institute.

"I think that we're going to see the most profound effect in five, six, seven years down the road when the companies we're investing in, when the talent that we're acquiring and encouraging to move into the state of Texas, when we begin to see the maturation of all of these investments begin to take shape, I think that's when we're going to see a dynamic change on the landscape in the life sciences for our state."

There are around 3000 life sciences companies in Texas and many of them are in Houston. Jacqueline Northcut is the president and CEO of BioHouston, an organization promoting biotech growth here.

"Of the doubling of companies that we've experienced in a few short years, over half of those companies have fewer than 10 employees, so what we're seeing is the best is yet to come. We have the emerging technology. We're putting together all of the building blocks that's really going to put Houston in the forefront as an emerging biotechnology market."ξ

There's more information about the growing biotech industry in Texas on our website, KUHF.org.

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