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NMBio flourishes as state’s biotech industry expands

bizO-RobinsonAvila_Kevin_BizO_TechThe New Mexico Biotechnology and Biomedical Association is front and center in a new, energetic push to build the state’s burgeoning life sciences industry into a bustling foundation for economic growth in New Mexico.

The association, which formed in the mid 1990s, has actually spearheaded that effort for 20 years. But now, with many more investors and innovators coming together statewide to move biotech breakthroughs from lab to market, NMBio is emerging as a unifying force.

The association is one of the key drivers behind the new GrowBio initiative, which launched in December to pull New Mexico’s business leaders, public officials and economic-development professionals together in a joint effort to grow the industry. And it’s now leading the push for new policies, incentives and projects to build the foundational infrastructure needed to move forward, said Stuart Rose, an industry veteran and founder of the Bioscience Center in Uptown Albuquerque.

Stuart Rose

Stuart Rose

“The key to growing the biotech industry in New Mexico is to have a focal point that represents the industry and the state,” Stuart said. “NMBio is the logical organization to fill that role. It’s forging a statewide network to pull everyone together.”

With modern bioengineering capabilities fueling new advances in life science research and development, the state needs to concentrate on commercializing more of its medical, agricultural and environmental breakthroughs.

“The biggest thing is getting people in the state to pay attention to our biotechnology potential,” Rose said. “The scientists have been here a long time, but not enough attention has been paid to the commercialization of locally developed technology, so NMBio is working to bring more people to the table.”

That effort gained momentum in January 2016, when NMBio hired its first paid executive director, Greg Byrnes. Until then, the association relied solely on volunteer leaders.

Greg Byrnes

Greg Byrnes

Under Byrnes’ leadership, NMBio has spread its reach statewide, expanding recruitment and organizational activities from its traditional base in Albuquerque to Las Cruces, Socorro, Santa Fe and Los Alamos. It added board members from those places and it now holds regional meetings there, as well.

NMBio’s membership has nearly doubled, from 36 companies in 2015 to 60 now. That includes recruitment of major biotechology and pharmaceutical firms, such as national players like Genentech, Novo Nordisk and Pfizer, said NMBio past president and long-time board member Janeen Vilven-Doggett, a patent attorney with Peacock Myers.

“We’re flourishing now with a multitude of industry sponsors who are supporting NMBio as a voice for the industry,” Vilven-Doggett said.

The association has increased its networking and educational activities, driving up participation, said Rick VanNess, product manager at Tricore Reference Laboratories.

“Last year, attendance was up nearly 30 percent at our forums,” VanNess said. “We’re holding more fruitful, targeted events that help to bring large institutions like the University of New Mexico together with smaller ones.”

Indeed, UNM played a critical role in developing the GrowBio initiative. Dr. Richard Larson, executive chancellor at the UNM Health Sciences Center, helped spearhead the research and production of a new, comprehensive report on the state of New Mexico’s biotechnology industry, with recommendations for cooperative public-private efforts to grow it. NMBio organized a forum at UNM in January to present the report, attended by about 150 businesspeople, officials and industry professionals.

Now, NMBio is working to apply the report’s recommendations, beginning with the creation of a “bioscience authority” with public and private participation to guide industry initiatives statewide.

“We have a draft ready now on a legislative bill to create the bioscience authority,” Byrnes said. “It’s a tough budget year, so we don’t expect much funding from the state. But we want to spread the germ to get people thinking for future years, and we’ll look to raise private funding for it.”

NMBio is also working on new promotional materials to build awareness nationally, and to recruit more companies and talent to the state. Those efforts will culminate in June at the national Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s 2017 international convention in San Diego, a premier annual event that usually attracts up to 18,000 participants from nearly 80 countries.

NMBio is organizing the first New Mexico pavilion for the conference.

“Last year, we were the only state in the Southwest without a state table at the convention,” Byrnes said. “That’s a place where deals get done. We need to get the word out there about New Mexico.”