A Look Back on Three Years Of Life Sciences Growth, During an Economic Downturn

11/15/11

This week, The Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association (WBBA) will host its Governor’s Life Sciences Summit and Annual Meeting. Nearly 1,000 leaders of Washington’s life sciences community are expected attend. The summit celebrates the importance of the life sciences industry to our state’s economic future, which is critical, as life sciences remains one of Washington’s five largest and fastest-growing sectors, spanning 72 cities statewide, employing tens of thousands with high-wage jobs, and in 2009 stimulating more than $10.5 billion in state economic activity.

Last year’s economic impact data report indicated from 2007-2009 the number of life sciences jobs grew nearly 5 percent, to 26,300. On Friday the WBBA will release this year’s findings and we expect to see continued positive results.

During my tenure as Board Chair, I’ve watched WBBA work with an incredibly diverse membership group to translate innovation to realization: from breakthrough discoveries to better health solutions, keeping Washington state life sciences focused on better health for people around the world. In spite of an economic downturn over the last few years, growth and expansion of the organization into all areas has been significant, with a continuous pattern of maturing and getting more sophisticated in what we do. We’ve been able to achieve more than ever before, even in bad economic times.

Each year WBBA membership has grown in both numbers and diversity with a net increase of 5 percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2010. We represent a diverse industry, including, biotech, biopharma and medical device companies; public and private research institutions, manufacturing companies, and service organizations.

We’ve continued to expand our Government Affairs Council (GAC), overseeing policy and legislation at the local, state and federal levels, assessing the impact of policy on members, and taking appropriate action via letters, testimony, meetings and position statements. The GAC also develops and makes recommendations to the Executive Committee regarding the WBBA’s annual public affairs agenda and engages in fundraising for BIOPAC. BIOPAC is WBBA’s non-partisan political action committee. Contributions to BIOPAC help increase the life science sector’s voice in Washington state government through education, information and support for candidates who promote the development of medical products and devices that save lives and improve the quality of life for millions of individuals.

Our goal has been to assist life science researchers, entrepreneurs, and companies in bridging the gap between discovery and commercialization. We developed a broad range of activities to do this, including free consulting to member companies, regular educational and company showcase events, and the creation of resources pertinent to the issues faced by technology commercialization in Washington state.

During my tenure as board chair, we established new programs to facilitate access to capital in several ways. Wings is a non-profit angel network that began about three years ago with strong support of the WBBA and others including the University of Washington’s Center for Commercialization. Wings facilitates seed and early stage investments in medical technology companies in Washington state. WBBA has also developed an exciting program called Venture, Investor and Partnering (VIP) Forums. We invite high quality investors and strategic partners to Seattle for a showcase of the most promising life science companies and research opportunities in the region.

We’ve helped recruit, train and retain talent. Recently however we’ve taken it a step further. A key example: When ZymoGenetics was purchased by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2010, WBBA president Chris Rivera coordinated an effort with Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Congressman Jay Inslee to petition Bristol-Myers to keep nearly 300 jobs here in Seattle. As a result, the company kept the facility open here and has become active in our local life sciences community.

Even through challenging economic times, the life sciences sector continues to fuel the vitality of Washington state. With leadership and vision we can continue to drive our innovation economy by continuing to combine our efforts to nurture entrepreneurism and boost creativity. There are many people in this community who really care and participate, and are helping WBBA do just that. One thing I’m really proud of is that because of what we’ve been able to accomplish with WBBA, we have an outstanding incoming board chair, Thong Le.

It is my belief that our economy is going to be fueled by new ideas and new companies. I anticipate that the trend upward in life sciences jobs will keep the life sciences in Washington growing. Key to that growth is having a supportive business climate, an educated workforce and strong support for research. WBBA will continue doing its part to develop initiatives and programs that help grow new life sciences companies and retain those already here. WBBA will continue to be the glue of the life sciences sector.

Tom Clement is the CEO of Cardiac Insight, CEO of Aqueduct Neurosciences, and the outgoing chairman of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Follow @

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  • R. Jones

    The 2009 tally of 26,300 high paying life science jobs seems like an odd quote for an article on the 2011 state of life science here in Washington. Amgen recently announced that they would layoff about 70 people here in Seattle. Contrast that with the less than 70 jobs total on the WBBA jobs board. Are we growing or did we reach a pinnacle in 2009? Without more data it is hard to honestly assess the situation. Granted, it would be a career killer for a local leader to be honest when our industry is tanking. But honesty might just save us.

  • Tom Clement

    R. Jones: Please attend the WBBA Annual Meeting for the presentation of the 2010 data this Friday. The 2009 data is the most recent data we have. I am confident that the trend line we saw in 2009 continues to be sustained.

    Thanks for your thoughts and comments.

    Tom