Washington’s Innovation Corridor a Key to Recovery

2/18/11

It’s hard to believe that the biggest recession in U.S. history officially ended almost two years ago. For many regions the road to recovery has been rocky at best. Washington State is no exception. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, our state’s unemployment has hovered around nine percent for the past six months. Still, while many markets like financial services and construction have been hit particularly hard by the recession, the life sciences industry not only weathered the storm quite well, it has grown.

In fact, the life science industry in the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for innovation and has been an important part of our overall economic recovery. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of life sciences jobs grew nearly 5 percent to 26,300, while jobs in Washington’s other private sectors decreased by 4 percent.

We attribute much of this success to the scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit that has become a hallmark of our state. Washington ranked second in the country in the “2010 State New Economy Index,” published by the Kauffman Foundation. The high scores were reflective of our strength in software and aviation but also an acknowledgement of the innovative environment that has developed here in many sectors, including life sciences.

And despite the reality of today’s economy that has made private investment in research and development even harder to come by, Seattle is among some of the country’s leading life science hubs, including the Bay Area, Boston and San Diego, that are bringing in VC funding. Last year while other sectors struggled, life science companies across the nation raised record levels of capital, according to the Burrill & Company report on Venture Capital Funding. Investment also came in the form of acquisitions. Five of the area’s life sciences companies were acquired last year, most notably, ZymoGenetics, acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million. Encouragingly, in January, Bristol-Myers Squibb announced it would keep ZymoGenetics open in Seattle, retaining more than 200 jobs.

Across Washington State, 72 cities host life science and research companies, which create more than 25,000 jobs directly linked to life sciences and 55,000 indirect jobs. A typical life science job pays twice the average salary in Washington State. In addition to job growth in the life sciences, there are many hopeful signs that our life science industry is flourishing.

• Just this month, Seattle Genetics raised $178 million in a stock offering.

• In 2010, three of the FDA’s twenty-one approved drugs were discovered and developed by Seattle biotechnology companies, including Amgen’s Xgeva through Amgen’s acquisition of Immunex, Gilead’s Cayston through their acquisition of Corus, and of course Dendreon’s Provenge.

• The National Cancer Institute awarded $11.5 million to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to lead a breast cancer research consortium.

• And last September, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association (WBBA) signed an historic agreement with the Beijing Pharmaceutical Profession Association to encourage investment, partnering and research collaboration between Washington State and China.

On March 2, the WBBA and Burrill & Company will co-host Life Science Innovation Northwest 2011 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. The event brings together members of the life sciences community from 15 states and eight countries including Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Japan and the United Kingdom to address some of the critical issues facing the industry. The goal is to stimulate ideas and excitement about the Northwest’s innovative life sciences corridor. We’ll tackle the issue of early stage funding, providing ideas for fueling innovation through public, angel and VC sources. We’ll also discuss ways to encourage global investment in the region.

We have an exciting and challenging opportunity before us. We are fast becoming one of the world’s leading innovation hubs for life sciences. We are uniquely positioned for this role because of our world renowned expertise in research (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Washington Center for Commercialization, and Oregon Health & Science University), global health (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle Biomed, Institute for Systems Biology, and PATH) and agriculture (Washington State University) as well as our proximity to growing markets like Asia. We have a vibrant community of private sector companies and are working with our state and local governments to encourage a climate that enables entrepreneurial people and companies to convert innovative ideas into marketable new products, services and jobs.

[Editor's Note: This post was authored with input from Steve Burrill of Burrill & Co.]

Chris Rivera is the President of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Follow @

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  • vivek sinha

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    life sciences