Alberta's innovation drive 

Although Alberta in Canada is largely known for its oil and gas industry, provincial leaders are committed to growing its knowledge-based economy in the life sciences sector.


Enter the creation of the Alberta Institute for Advanced Technology, with its focus on commercially oriented innovative research. The institute is already filling a key gap in Alberta’s innovation ecosystem.

“Alberta’s bio sector has made significant breakthroughs in health and medical care,” says Alberta premier Ed Stelmach. “We now have product listing agreements and venture capital funds. We have also restructured the whole industry to what we call ‘Alberta Innovates’.”

Under the banner of Alberta Innovates, the Alberta government has created new organisations that are building on Alberta's strengths in the health, energy and environment, technology and bio sectors.

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, for example, builds on the strengths and successes of the Alberta Prion Research Institute and the former Alberta Agricultural Research Institute, Alberta Forestry Research Institute and Alberta Life Sciences Institute.

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is embracing and supporting new technologies and the creation of ideas for the growing global bioeconomy. It is delivering on the potential of agriculture and forestry in areas such as sustainable production, biorefining, composite materials, value-added food and health products, and nano-enabled materials. It is also strengthening new sustainability practices, new natural products for world markets and economic opportunities attracting international investment.

Mr Stelmach attributes this effort to helping attract major contributions to research in Alberta. “Companies are investing there in research,” he says. “We’ve improved our calibre in the sciences and private donations that have come forward for funding university positions. It’s all very positive.”

In recent years, Alberta has experienced tremendous population growth, spawned largely from its booming energy sector. Consequently, during the past five years, the provincial government has invested $35bn in infrastructure improvements that include hospitals and post-secondary schools.

“We are catching up with the population growth,” he says.

Florida biotech's number one ambition

Florida governor Rick Scott wants to catapult his state to top status for biotech. The sunshine state already has the second fastest growing biotech industry in the US.

Florida first rose to national prominence as a biotech hub in 2003 when the Scripps Research Institute announced it would build a major new campus in South Florida. Today, Scripps occupies 120,000 square metres adjacent to the John D MacArthur campus of Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County. 

Scripps’s presence in Florida has resulted in biotech companies such as Max Planck Florida, Sanford-Burnham and VGTi locating in the state to conduct cutting-edge research. In fact, since 2007, the number of biotech companies in Florida has more than doubled, resulting in biotech employment increasing 150%.

Florida continues to see big growth. In 2009, San Diego’s Burnham Institute for Medical Research opened its $85m Florida satellite laboratory in Orlando’s new ‘medical city’ in Lake Nona. 

The community encompasses 28 square kilometres and features Nemours Children's Hospital, MD Anderson Orlando's Cancer Research Institute, Orlando VA Medical Centre, University of Central Florida's new College of Medicine and Health Sciences campus, Burnham Institute for Medical Research's east coast campus and a University of Florida research facility.

Mr Scott expects new biotech and pharmaceutical companies to sprout around the medical facilities and potentially employ more than 30,000 people with an $8bn economic impact. “We have all of the elements,” he says.

These include competitive labour costs, low taxes and reduced regulation.

Florida has no personal income tax compared with an 8% tax or more in many other life science states. Mr Scott is also eliminating its business tax, now at about 10%.

He has also streamlined government, reduced burdensome regulations and reorganised the state’s economic development agency. For example, Florida has recently eliminated duplicative oversight of medical device manufacturers.

“Through our efforts, I am confident Florida will be the number one place to start, grow or move a business,” says Mr Scott.

Kentucky’s unbridled biotech spirit

Kentucky is serious about racing to the finish line when it comes to biotechnology.

“We understand the importance of growing biotech and see its tremendous potential,” says governor Steve Beshear.

The state offers a number of programmes to promote biotech: the High-Tech Pools programme, the Commonwealth Seed Capital programme and the New Energy Ventures Fund.

The New Energy Ventures Fund supports companies undertaking research, development and commercialisation of alternative fuels and renewable energy. It provides grants of $30,000 to qualifying Kentucky-based companies and those relocating to Kentucky. Larger awards involve investments of $250,000 to $750,000.

Kentucky also offers a unique programme that matches dollar-for-dollar federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards. Phase one awards are matched up to $100,000 and phase two awards up to $500,000 per year. There are no third-party match or job-creation requirements.

“In essence, companies can double their money for getting their company off the ground and to the next stage,” says Mr Beshear.

Since the matching funds programme began in 2006, 12 biotech companies have relocated to Kentucky to take advantage. As of March 2010, the programme made 80 awards to 46 companies for nearly $18m.

In addition, there’s a variety of progressive tax incentives and financial programmes, as well as a statewide network of innovation and commercialisation centres.

“We have a number of partnerships with our research institutions, the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville,” says Mr Beshear. “These are spinning off a number of companies.”

Noteworthy, a branch of the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago is scheduled to open later this year in Lexington.

“Work here will be in clean technology,” he says.

Overall, Mr Beshear believes biotech companies will be surprised when they learn what clusters are developed and developing in Kentucky. “Biotechnology activity is found all over Kentucky,” he says.

Massachusetts’ road to biotech revolution

Massachusetts is on a road to revolution for biotechnology.

“Since our life science initiative went into effect in 2008, Massachusetts has invested about $250m of public money that has generated almost a billion dollars of private investment and thousands of jobs,” reports governor Deval Patrick.

He emphasises how, at a time when every state budget has been under pressure, Massachusetts has maintained its commitment to the life science initiative.

“Our budgets are balanced and we are one of only three states in the US with a positive fiscal outlook,” he adds.

The hub of activity is the Mass Life Science Centre, a catalyst for the state’s life science cluster for academic institutions, university medical centres and industry groups.

Located in the heart of Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, the Life Science Centre is surrounded by world-class life science research institutions, hospitals, and biological and pharmaceutical companies, including Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Merck Research Laboratories Boston. This year the centre has awarded $2m in small business matching grants to four life sciences companies.

Also this year, Pfizer announced a $100m, five-year plan to establish a new centre for therapeutic innovation in the heart of the thriving biotech hub. Some 50 investigators will be brought in to work in teams with researchers at local universities and hospitals.

Under this new model, three Pfizer researchers will team up with three investigators from institutions such as Beth Israel Deaconess, Boston University, Harvard University, Tufts Medical Centre and Partners HealthCare to select the most promising projects. Pfizer signed a lease for laboratory space at the Life Science Centre where it plans to buddy up with its academic medical centre partners.

Elsewhere at Boston’s new Innovation District, Vertex Pharmaceuticals broke ground in mid-June on the largest commercial project in Boston’s history. “The project is the largest private construction under way in the US,” says Mr Patrick.

Cluster in Nova Scotia harnesses the sea

Darrell Dexter, premier of Nova Scotia, Canada, believes provinces fronting the Atlantic coast deserve a place on the global biotech map and that more needs to be done to establish Nova Scotia as a biotech centre.

Consequently, in April he announced the Atlantic Regional Venture Capital Fund, a privately operated fund that will be up and running early 2012 with C$50m ($52m) available by the second quarter.

To date, Nova Scotia has set aside $15m from its 2011-12 budget for the fund. New Brunswick also recently pledged $15m. The fund's private managers will raise another $20m in capital to top off the fund.

Until this effort, Atlantic Canada has lacked risk capital investment. Nevertheless, Mr Dexter emphasises that Nova Scotia enjoys biotech success for two reasons: its centres of research excellence and its location on the Atlantic Ocean.

“We have a broad research base because we have many universities in Halifax,” says Mr Dexter. “Nova Scotia is an education capital for Atlantic Canada.”

Much biotech activity is pharmaceutical related with a concentration on marine plants. For example, Ocean Nutrition Canada of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is the largest global supplier of Omega-3 essential fatty acid ingredients from an ocean source – fish oil. Acadian Seaplants Limited, also of Dartmouth, is huge in innovative use of sea plants for global agri-chemical, animal feed and specialty ingredients markets. It also cultivates unique, edible seaweed products for the Asian food market.

“These examples demonstrate Nova Scotia’s ability to take biotech from research in the laboratory to commercialisation,” says Mr Dexter. And he believes there are no limits to what it can achieve.

But he sees the province needing to do more to establish Nova Scotia as a centre. “That’s why I recently announced the Atlantic Regional Venture Capital Fund,” he says. “We want to bring a lot of private sector funding to ensure the equity remains there for innovation.”

Oklahoma’s boom time

Oklahoma is experiencing a 'boomerang' effect whereby, unlike the dust bowl days when people left the state for California, today they are returning because business is more promising.

“The bioscience industry is looking for other locations and needing people who are moving back to Oklahoma,” says governor Mary Fallin.

Oklahoma has a strong foundation in biotech, bioscience and research. The state boasts about 500 bioscience-related companies and offers a solid foundation of bioscience, research and capital.

“More than 50,000 Oklahomans have a job related to bioscience,” she says. “This creates about $6.7bn in state revenue, which is remarkable given its small 3.6 million population.”

Oklahoma offers several economic development incentive programmes to bio concerns. Its Edge fund is designed specifically to strengthen Oklahoma’s technology-based economy and attract federal funds. There is also i2E, a private, not-for-profit Oklahoma corporation that helps with start-up funding.

“Oklahoma Centre for the Advancement of Science and Technology (Ocast) is another function of government to bring innovation and research to the marketplace,” says Ms Fallin.

Under the supervision of the Oklahoma secretary of science and technology, Ocast is responsible for fostering innovation in existing and developing businesses by supporting basic and applied research.

The investments are making their mark. “Oklahoma has made a strong commitment to bioscience and research,” she says. “We have leading research going on for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Biotechnology is also fostered by the Nobel Foundation in Ardmore and the Bioengineering Centre created to coordinate and enhance bio research at the University of Oklahoma.

A new cancer research centre opened in Oklahoma city in June. The state government appropriated more than $60m for the comprehensive cancer centre.

The state is also home to the new Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Centre at the University of Oklahoma that is doing research and clinical programming on education treatment of diabetes.

South Dakota gets biotech-ready

South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard claims there are three reasons South Dakota is a good place for biotechnology: its overall business climate; the fact that headquarters for several multi-state healthcare organisations are located there; and its emphasis on plant and animal sciences.

South Dakota is the only US state where companies pay no taxes on personal property, corporate income, personal income, and inheritance or business inventories.

State legislators recently agreed to set aside a fixed percentage of South Dakota’s contractor excise tax to be utilised by the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development for economic development grants. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development also has a fund to bring jobs and investment to South Dakota.

“We have a multitude of low interest loans available to help companies with working capital, facilities and equipment, whether it be debt financing or outright grants,” says Mr Daugaard.

Bioscience companies such as Hematech, Nurtaferma and 3M already call South Dakota home. The state’s diverse population makes it well suited for clinical trials.

South Dakota is turning a closed gold mine into a national underground science laboratory. In addition, philanthropist T Denny Sanford made a $500m investment in biomedical research in the state, including a recent investment of $100m for type one diabetes research.

The state also has invested $30m since 2004 and created 10 research centres. Those centres have generated additional private and federal funds totalling $138m and have received more than $174m in support for research and development. They have had an economic impact of more than $251m on South Dakota.

All said, South Dakota’s prime economic driver is agriculture. Consequently, its farmers are large users of biotechnology with genetically modified seeds.

“So whether it’s biotech seeds or biotech animals, companies will find a good home in South Dakota for research or manufacturing,” says Mr Daugaard.