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Alamo City poised to grab bigger share of state’s biotech pie
August 5, 2011

San Antonio Business Journal - by W. Scott Bailey

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute's Kenneth P. Trevett says San Antonio is gaining momentum in the bioscience race.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Economic Development & Tourism office has published a new report that pegs the estimated economic impact of the state's bioscience industry at $75 billion annually.

While the Alamo City needs to make up some ground if it hopes to compete at the same level as Dallas and Houston in the bioscience arena, local officials believe the San Antonio region is well-positioned to do just that.

"We are not as well known in the biosciences as Houston or Dallas," says Kenneth P. Trevett, president and CEO of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, about San Antonio. "But, we have extraordinary strengths."
Trevett says San Antonio also has some important momentum working in its favor. Health care, including bioscience, is San Antonio's leading industry.

If San Antonio can grow its role in the bioscience sector, it could raise the city's profile nationally and internationally, creating increased economic opportunities in the region.

The Lone Star State is home to more than 4,500 bioscience firms, university research facilities, manufacturers and industry consortia, according to the state report. More than 108,000 workers are employed in the bioscience sector in Texas, earning an average salary of more than $74,800 annually.

San Antonio continues to attract companies and jobs, boosting its presence in the sector. In June, for example, Becton, Dickinson and Co., based in New Jersey, opened a North American Professional Service Center in San Antonio. The Alamo City office is expected to eventually employ nearly 300 people who will support BD's corporate operations.

BD Chairman and CEO Edward J. Ludwig says access to an excellent talent pool and key academic institutions in San Antonio "were significant draws."

Broader image
In 2003, the State of Texas established the Texas Enterprise Fund. The TEF was created primarily to attract new business to the state and to assist existing businesses with substantial expansion.

According to the state's latest biosciences report, a total of nearly $98 million had been awarded from the TEF for bioscience-related projects in the Lone Star State through the end of 2010. Nearly $8 million of that total was awarded to San Antonio, including $6 million that was used to help convince Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. to expand its diabetes division to the Alamo City.

Houston received $27 million from the TEF, including $25 million that was awarded to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The Bayou City, along with College Station, were jointly awarded another $50 million.

The Texas Emerging Technology Fund was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 to provide research and development support to boost commercialization of emerging technologies.

Through 2010, more than $232 million has been awarded for bioscience projects in the Lone Star State via the TETF program, the new state report shows. San Antonio institutions have received a total of more than $34 million from the TETF.

Trevett, who is also chairman of BioMed SA, says the TETF is another key weapon in Texas' and San Antonio's arsenal.

While state lawmakers recently authorized both the TEF and TETF to spend their remaining, previously budgeted dollars over the next biennium, it's unclear what will happen to those programs long-term.

Despite that uncertainty, Thomas Kowalski, president of the Austin-based Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute, says San Antonio is turning heads in the bioscience arena.

"San Antonio as a region is flourishing," he says. "There are some dynamic things going on there. All of the resources and assets are in place."

Trevett says San Antonio political officials "really understand the importance of the (bioscience) sector and have worked effectively to bring new assets to the city."

But Trevett says there is still work to do to overcome the misconception in some parts that tourism is more important economically to San Antonio than the biosciences. He says local leaders must "broaden the image of our community to accommodate the reality" that San Antonio is indeed a legitimate player in the biosciences arena.

Major global player
BioMed SA is a nonprofit organization charged with accelerating the growth of San Antonio's health care and bioscience sector.

Its president, Ann Stevens, says the organization is "working diligently to raise San Antonio's profile nationally and internationally as a bioscience center."

Last month, BioMed SA entered into a memorandum of intent with BioJerusalem. As a result of the new partnership, Stevens says San Antonio has an opportunity to "open doors and build relationships with our counterparts in the capital of one of the world's most technologically advanced nations."

Stevens adds, "We will be working with the leadership of BioJerusalem over the next couple of years to identify areas of complementary strengths within our respective sectors and to facilitate interaction among interested companies and institutions."

Trevett says the Alamo City is in a good spot.

But he says San Antonio needs to leverage its assets, including its research capabilities, as well as its neuroscience and infectious-disease programs he insists are "respected worldwide."

Kowalski says Texas is adding muscle in all the right places - in the San Antonio-Austin corridor, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and in the Houston region.

"When we look 10 to 20 years down the road, there will be a triangle in Texas that is a major global player," he says.

How much more prominent of a player can San Antonio become in the biosciences?

"It could be huge," Kowalski says.

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