Arizona’s commitment to building a life sciences industry has produced big results with breathtaking speed.

Perhaps it was an advantage that being relatively new to the industry, Arizona is unburdened by the silo mentality or institutional allegiances that can hamper creativity, flexibly and entrepreneurship. Or, maybe it is the ‘can do’ attitude that gets people from across the state – from industry, academia and the public sector – to work together. However you choose to explain it, Arizona’s strengths are starting to become evident in the industry.

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Those strengths – neurological sciences, cancer therapeutics, and bioengineering – are identified in Arizona’s 2002 Bioscience Roadmap, developed by Battelle, as areas that could become dominant with the right infusion of talent and resources. This is evident through the success the state has had already, despite current economic turmoil.

Platform biotechnology company SenesTech, for one, is showing success in reproductive physiology. Founded in Flagstaff in 2002 as a spin-out from Northern Arizona University (NAU), SenesTech’s work is based on technology licensed by the University of Arizona (UA). Its mission is to complete the development of non-surgical reproduction management technology that could profoundly change the world via wildlife and companion animal population control.

The company receives support and guidance from the Northern Arizona Centre for Emerging Technologies (NACET), a new high-technology business incubator in Flagstaff, built on the intellectual firepower of NAU researchers. SenesTech occupies about 492 square metres in the NACET building. “We employ 11 people at the facility and support an additional 43 on the NAU campus through sponsored research projects,” says SeneTech’s Karen Pohlman.

SenesTech plans to permanently occupy a 2322.5-square metre facility in Flagstaff. It recently entered into a strategic alliance with the Australian government to control rodent populations in Australia, New Zealand, and south-east Asia. SenesTech is also developing strategic partnerships with international industries, not-for-profit organisations and universities to accelerate the translation of its platform technology into marketable products.

Leadership magnet

InNexus Biotechnology moved their Canadian headquarters to The Mayo Clinic campus in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2006. InNexus develops early-stage cancer drugs and operates a $4.5m, 1858-square metre facility that includes eight Good Laboratory Practice and Good Manufacturing Practice-type laboratoriess as well as freezer, storage and business operations for a team of about 50 people.

“Our choice to be on the Mayo Clinic campus followed in suit the strong brand Mayo has built with exceptional care for patients and forward-thinking ideology,” says Jeff Morhet, InNexus chairman, CEO and president.

Scottsdale is particularly attractive and, like neighbouring Phoenix, offers a central metropolitan location accessible to major research institutes plus a south-western, affordable life style. The bulk of InNexus’s team and facilities are located in Arizona where the company is actively involved with multiple universities and collaborations. “We have found the universities and the larger-than-expected health services industry in the state amply provide qualified talent for drug development companies such as ours,” says Mr Morhet.

No doubt Arizona offers the necessary operating environment specific to bioscience companies: engaged research institutions; access to capital; a progressive tax environment; appropriate lab facilities; a long-term commitment; and a culture of collaboration. These, along with international firms such as WL Gore & Associates and Roche Holding AG that also operate there, have put the Arizona on the biotech map.

Key is the state’s research institutions, which won full support from Arizona voters in 2000 when they approved $1bn in dedicated funding for scientific research at state universities. Most recently, the state legislature voted to complete construction of a new downtown-Phoenix biomedical campus.

Arizona’s three public universities are far more than think tanks. They are research and economic engines. Each university has a dedicated technology-transfer programme for commercialising faculty research. Increasingly, firms are coming to the universities to look for ways to establish public-private partnerships for developing new products and services.

So what is next for the biosciences in Arizona? Officials anticipate long-term, molecular diagnostics will be one of its top niches. The signs are there: the research achievements of the Translational Genomics Research Institute, the acquisition by Roche of Ventana Medical Systems, the attention from big pharma that the Critical Path Institute has attracted to Arizona, to name just three. To foster further development, Arizona is now focusing on stimulating capital formation, as well instituting structural reforms to support commercialisation.

For more about the biosciences industry in Arizona, visit http://www.azcommerce.com/ or contact the Arizona Department of Commerce at 602.771.1124 or email jayeo@azcommerce.com.