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Biotech needs public/private center to grow, industry told

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s burgeoning biotechnology industry could blossom into a major force for economic development if the state’s public and private sectors work together to build it.

That was the central message at a University of New Mexico forum Thursday organized by founders of the state’s new GrowBio initiative, which launched in December to unite government officials, research organizations and business leaders around policies and incentives to accelerate industry growth. About 150 people attended the forum, where Dr. Richard Larson, executive chancellor at the UNM Health Sciences Center, laid out some critical steps needed to move forward.

First and foremost is creation of an umbrella entity, or industry cluster, that can spearhead pro-industry initiatives and programs, Larson told forum participants.

“We need a central, statewide bioscience authority, or center, with public and private participation to oversee all activity,” Larson said. “All states that have succeeded in building their biotechnology industries have done that.”

The entity would provide networking opportunities among industry players, support services, information, resources and possibly co-location centers for public and private organizations. It would also coordinate efforts to create incentives and policies needed to build the industry.

The new entity is a central recommendation in a comprehensive report GrowBio released in December analyzing the current state of New Mexico’s life sciences industry and ways to grow it. Other recommendations include efforts to increase access to capital for biotechnology startups, workforce development initiatives, targeted tax incentives, government policies to streamline permitting and regulation, and efforts to strengthen technology transfer programs.

“We need targeted tax incentives, co-investment and seed funding,” Larson said.

A bottom-up review of government regulations is also critical to better inform investors about requirements for doing business in the state, he said. But most important is closer collaboration by state and local governments with New Mexico’s research institutions, private businesses and organizations.

“It takes a public-private partnership to make this work,” Larson said.

Others stressed the need for businesspeople to take a leading role.

“This is all about economic development, and we need people from the private sector to lead it,” said Stuart Rose, an industry veteran and founder of the Bioscience Center in Uptown Albuquerque who spoke on a panel following Larson’s presentation. “We haven’t really had the private sector step up to lead things. If it does, we have the potential to make a dramatic change in our state economy.”

New Mexico State University Vice President and Provost Daniel Howard, another panelist, said new investments and incentives will reinforce the industry foundations already in place in New Mexico.

“We’ve already invested a lot,” Howard said. “Significant research is being done here. We need to build on our fundamental strengths.”

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