A Wealth of Health

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According to an Oklahoma City Chamber report, the average yearly wage in the Oklahoma City area is $37,773, compared to $45,439 for employees in the biotech sector, or $58,343 for those working in the drugs/pharmaceuticals sub-sector of biotechnology. The combined direct and indirect impact associated with the bioscience/biomedical sector contributes $6.7 billion in activity to the region. It is estimated that $227 million in state and local taxes are generated just as a result of direct and indirect bioscience-related employment.

Another powerful biotech economic engine – the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation – has yielded more than 600 domestic and international patents, says Dr. Stephen Prescott, OMRF president. OMRF has spun off more than a dozen biotech companies, which in turn fuel widespread private-sector growth, creating high-quality, high-paying jobs. The OMRF’s new 186,000 square-foot research facility is home to 34 labs, and the research tower houses a total workforce expansion from 50 to more than 80 researchers.

In recent years, capital investments have increased for several biotech entities – to name a few – including a new, $100 million, 210,000-square-foot building for the Stephenson Cancer Center; a new, 78,000-square-foot facility for the Dean McGee Eye Institute; and the opening of Oklahoma State University’s Henry Bellmon Research Center with a $70 million investment, says Long.

William Paiva, manager of Tulsa-based Oklahoma Life Science Fund, says his group of venture funds was created in 2000 to focus on health care investing in the commercialization of healthcare opportunities that come both from out of state and from Oklahoma’s educational institutions.

“We recognized in the early stages that there wasn’t much early stage capital for Oklahoma’s early-stage companies in that sector,” says Paiva. “At first, we funded five companies, and that attracted $250 million in out-of-state venture capital, which had never invested in Oklahoma before. Then, after we had $75 million more in venture capital, we invested in five more companies. Collectively, we have seeded companies that have gone on to raise over $300 million in venture, and when you add in corporate capital it goes over $2 billion.”[pullquote]By working closely with the state’s universities and colleges to develop Oklahoma’s biotech workforce, we are providing high-wage jobs.”[/pullquote]

One OLSF-funded company – InterGenetics – is among many biomedical firms with a reach far beyond the state’s borders. InterGenetics is a predictive medicine company focused on molecular diagnostics and targeted therapy for cancer and has, thus far, signed up 32 testing centers in 21 states and is licensed to operate in 49 states. Its founder, Craig Shimasaki, left California in favor of Oklahoma’s pro-business and bio-tech-friendly factors.

Attracting out-of-state dollars is something that stimulates the state’s economy to such a

degree that leaders are often focused on recruiting new businesses to the state. Many such deep-pocket investors discover the benefits of Oklahoma via the biotech sector. For example, in 2011, Oklahoma City-based Cytovance Biologics announced a staged $22.5 million growth equity investment from Great Point Partners, LLC, and a Greenwich, Conn., private investment firm focused on emerging opportunities in the health care and bio-technology categories. More than 150 people are employed at Cytovance, a contract manufacturing organization serving the bio-pharmacy industry that produces clinical materials supply for biological drug developers such as antibodies, therapeutic proteins and enzymes, says Cheryl Tuck, marketing communications manager for Cytovance. The privately owned company was founded by Dr. William Canfield (he was portrayed by actor Harrison Ford in the movie Extraordinary Measures).

“By working closely with the state’s universities and colleges to develop Oklahoma’s biotech workforce, we are providing high-wage jobs,” says Tuck. “We’re the largest employer in the OU research park, and clinical areas we support include arthritis, bone/cartilage regeneration, cancer, sickle cell, gout, chronic pain and many more.”

The 27-acre, $100 million University Research Park, part of the Oklahoma Health Center complex, is home to 37 science-based companies.
Source: Oklahoma Bioscience Association

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