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Biotech: “It Can Be Done Here”

March 5, 2013

BioWV LogoDave Scholl, former CEO of Athens, Ohio based Diagnostic Hybrids – which sold for $130 million in 2010 – headlined the West Virginia Bioscience Summit on February 28 and informed the group that West Virginia can have significant success in the biotech industry.

“It can be done here,” Scholl told the more than 120 conference attendees, which included university researchers, biotech entrepreneurs, economic developers and others. “It takes time, it takes support and it takes persistence”.

Scholl’s comments were echoed throughout the conference.  Fritz Bittenbender, Vice President for State Government Relations for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said, “The biosciences industry is ‘powerful’ for economic development, because it has offers high-paying jobs and the ability to help society.”

“It’s so important that states engage bioscience technology and realize its importance,” Bittenbender said. “Failure and risk are inherently built into what we do and we need entrepreneurs who can handle these risks.  We also need state policy makers to understand the risk involved, that many projects will not succeed, but that the state – through responsible programs and incentives to grow the industry – needs to be a partner.”

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin addressed the conference and offered support and encouragement, noting that all $50 million invested by the State in the WV Research Trust Fund has been matched at WVU and Marshall.  U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, Congressman Nick Rahall and Secretary of State Natalie Tenant also addressed or provided comments to the group.

WV Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill spoke to the importance of research and the various initiatives taking place in the state.  Jeff May, Senior Vice President, North American Product Strategy for Mylan, informed the audience of Mylan’s history in West Virginia and the company’s plans for the future.  Steve Turner, CEO of Protea Biosciences in Morgantown, provided an update on the company’s technology and offered advice for those working to grow a biotech firm in the state.  He added that “West Virginia is an outstanding location for biotech firms” and Protea’s employees are “of the highest quality.”

The event also featured panel discussions bringing together university researchers and representatives to highlight the breadth of research being conducted in the state.  Speakers included Dr. John Maher, Vice President, Marshall University Research Corporation; Dr. Glenn Dillon, Vice President for Health Sciences Research and Graduate Education, WVU Health Sciences; Dr. Gagan Kaushal, University of Charleston School of Pharmacy; Dr. Robert Barney, Associate Director of Research, WV State University; and, Ms. Shana Phares, CEO, Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute.

A separate panel featured West Virginia bioscience company representatives and funders discussing the challenges involved with raising capital and policies that could ease the funding crunch.  The panel was moderated by TechConnect West Virginia Executive Director Anne Barth and included: Derek Gregg, Vandalia Research; Gardiner Smith, Progenesis Technologies; and, Michele O’Connor, WV Jobs Investment Trust.

The event highlighted clinical trials taking place in the state and the societal and economic importance of these programs.  Presenters included Dr. Glen Dillon, Vice President for Health Sciences Research and Graduate Education, West Virginia University; Dr. Nader Abraham, Vice Dean for Research, Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, Marshall University; and Jeff Trewhitt with the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America.

Technology transfer and commercialization experts discussed strategies for turning innovation into enterprise during a panel discussion on the topic.  Presenters included: Dr. Gary Morris, Associate Director, Office of Tech Transfer, West Virginia University; Amy Melton, Assistant Director, Technology Transfer, Marshall University; Jack Carpenter, Director, Innovation Transfer Consortium; and Robin Levine Stoller, Esq., Steptoe & Johnson PLLC.

Bryan Brown, Executive Director of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia, noted that the organization has grown 60 percent in the last year.  “West Virginia’s bio industry includes university researchers, technology transfer and tech-based economic development organizations, biotech companies and funders,” Brown said.  “Our organization works to promote and grow this industry and we have resources available to help.”

“For those interested in learning more about the organization or the programs and assistance we offer,” Brown added, “they can visit www.biowv.org or contact me directly at (304) 546-5500.”