What Can Washington Do to Revitalize Biotech? Q&A With Gov. Inslee

(Page 2 of 3)

have some successes. Nanostring just won marketing approval of a new diagnostic test for breast cancer. We do have some success stories. We do have to improve our access to venture capital. That’s something we’re very interested in doing. We have networks to make sure that happens.

I’d like to point out that these startups do not usually have signs on top of them with red, flashy lights on them. The nature of startups is to be small and under the radar. We have had successful startups that have been acquired and then leave the area. It’s part of our focus that when we have successful technological development, we want its manufacturing and larger support stays in the state of Washington. It’s one of the things that I think you rightfully point out, we need to work on.

It’s not just about biotech, either. I’m heading out now to Philips in Bothell, WA, which is rolling out a new ultrasound product. We’ve got medical device firms doing well in our area. That cluster helps the whole healthcare delivery system, as well as global health. Our global health cluster, between the Gates Foundation and PATH and others, are doing well. It’s not strictly biotech. We look at this as a life science cluster.

And, when you talk about walking around Lake Union, it’s not just Lake Union. I’m in Bothell now and we have some good things going on.

X: I hear you, and it’s a fair point to raise about medical devices, and Philips does have a big investment in Washington. But I cover a lot of those startups that don’t have big signs on their building, and there aren’t as many of them anymore. I know there are numbers coming out of the UW that say they are creating companies. But very few of those have raised any money, or have enough of a plan to say they will be around in a few years and growing.

JI: Seattle Genetics has been here for many years, and if you look at some of the success they’re having, it’s very exciting. That’s someone you ought to have on your radar screen.

X: I know about Seattle Genetics and have written a lot about it. But are you looking at any other ideas to stimulate more entrepreneurship and get more economic development out of some of that big research base you mentioned at UW, at Fred Hutch. I’m thinking about things like making it easier for entrepreneurial faculty members to start companies, while keeping their day job, or being able to fall back on it.

JI: We are exploring those options. We have had some success. Like I said, we doubled the commercialization rate from the UW. We intend to continue at that accelerated pace. There are some things we are looking at to clear cobwebs away from some of those people so they can become entrepreneurs. So the answer is yes.

Now, I know none of them are the equivalent of an Amazon at the moment, in terms of those companies coming out of the university. But that doesn’t dissuade me one bit in thinking this is very important and will be successful. These are nascent new companies. I’m happy we’ve doubled it already.

X: But I think a lot of people look at this from a job creation perspective, and I’m sure you hear about it, too. I talk to a lot of graduate students, postdocs, really smart young people coming out of these universities who cannot find jobs. There just aren’t jobs. There aren’t the kind of growing companies in the Seattle area anymore where they can find work. What do you say to those people?

JI: I’d say you should be pleased we are focusing on this area to accelerate creation of these clusters. You should be pleased we are doing an R&D tax credit that will increase investment. You should be pleased that our commercialization effort is increasing commercialization. You should be pleased that we are decreasing some of the regulatory hurdles these new companies have. You should be pleased we are going to be the only state in the country that has a regulatory index to judge our regulatory climate for these companies, which will tell us how successful we are in permitting so that when new companies get started, they can get going. You should be like a lot of people in our youth with tremendous intellectual capability – be ambitious, and impatient to get going. That impatience is real and well-founded. I think we have a bright future here.

X: You mentioned an R&D tax credit. I thought there already was an R&D tax credit for companies in Washington.

JI: We think we have some ideas, which we’ll be talking about in the legislature next session, on focusing better on startup companies which are in more need. We think we can … Next Page »

Single Page Currently on Page: 1 2 3 previous page

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

4 responses to “What Can Washington Do to Revitalize Biotech? Q&A With Gov. Inslee”

  1. Jim says:

    It’s good to see the rah rah nature of this interview and hopefully something will change, but as we speak the Seattle region biotech industry is literally hemorrhaging people everyday who move out of the region to pursue jobs in other hotbed communities. If the pace of implementation of some of these grand ideas is not expedited, and if the participant companies who are here don’t get some of the local talent into their company soon, then the local biotech community will decay to the point of irrelevance (what would make Seattle any different than the far flung one-company pharma towns?).
    Also, address the needs of the young straight-out-of-college Ph.D.’s, who actually are the most serious issue as their fate seals the deal for future generations who will be turned away from science as they see that many of their peers have not found jobs.There are many Ph.D.’s from the UW, arguably some of the strongest in the nation, who graduate to not a single opportunity and wither away or move away. It’s a very sad situation.
    A good idea would be to establish an incubator infrastructure for biotech companies to share in Bothell where there is lots of available lab real-estate at very reasonable cost. Buy up the used equipment from all the failing companies and help launch a new generation companies. Offer SBRI type funding to help the companies establish themselves and grow. Right now the incubator space of Seattle is extremely limited and lacks the support and vitality of Boston or San Francisco. This could single-handedly change the fate of this region. Help unlock the talent and offer the community an opportunity to grow local ideas.

  2. Jim — I hear your points, and I wanted to make sure that the Governor heard there are some serious problems in the Seattle biotech industry. I wanted to hear him acknowledge the problems, and talk seriously about what can be done to improve things. Thanks for sharing your idea about a Bothell incubator–I hadn’t heard that one before.

  3. Boston Joe says:

    Thanks Luke for once again covering this very important topic. My guess is that the politicians’ standard of a thriving biopharma. cluster is much different then ours. Quickly checking the Careers section of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council I can find over ten positions that I qualify for. At the moment I can not find one open position here in the Puget Sound region. This is scary considering how low our unemployment rate is here in the Seattle Metro area. He also has to realize it is not just about R&D start-ups (most of these are all “R” and no “D” by the way), but about large-scale biologics manufacturing. These facilities stay a long time, hire a lot of people (not just M.D./Ph.D. and lab. technicians like a research organization, though as Jim mentions this area needs help too), and hire all kinds of employees (scientists, engineers, quality, facilities, skilled manufacturing workers, support personnel, etc.). We seem to have no true large-scale manufacturing here outside of CMC Biologics. Also, SF and Boston have a growing biocommodities sector (biofuels, biochemicals, etc.). Not sure how profitable those enterprises will turn out to be but they are definitely adding good jobs to those two regions and are not just virtual companies with nice websites. Jim is right, at the end of the day there will be only so many biotech. clusters in the US and if we keep losing the critical mass, Seattle will drop out of the bunch and entire companies will just set up in one of the remaining clusters going forward.

  4. Carlos Danger says:

    Maybe I’m just another jaded biotech employee, but having a talking head like Inslee tell me I “should be pleased” about all the great things that are being regarding WA biotech really sticks in my craw. As Boston Joe pointed out, for certain skilled positions, you may be lucky to see a relevent job opening in Seattle once or twice a year. Who has the patience to wait it out a year or more while you burn through your savings, retirement account, etc.? BMS seems to be the only company adding new positions at the moment, while everyone else is treading water, still waiting for the economy to really pick up. I’m not sure what “commercialization efforts increasing commercialization” actually means? I recall a burst of new companies in the mid-2000’s, or at least companies doing a fair amount of hiring in the Seattle area (Alder, Allozyne, Trubion, VLST, Novo Nordisk, Spaltudaq, Theraclone, etc), but I can’t say there’s been much to be excited about the last 5 years. When is the last time the existing Accelerator graduated a company that actually made it to a Series B financing?