How healthy—and how significant—is Colorado’s biotech cluster? Just where does it stack up when compared to other clusters in the U.S.? And what will it take to sustain or (better yet) expand it?
The challenges of creating and sustaining a cluster are often on the minds of local biotech leaders. The topic came up again last month at the annual Rocky Mountain Life Science Investor & Partnering Conference. The event is hosted by the Colorado BioScience Association, and in addition to giving companies the chance to meet with investors, it provides a snapshot of where the industry is at the moment.
Highlights of the event included a keynote “fireside chat” about the state of the industry in Colorado with Clovis Oncology CEO Pat Mahaffy, Array BioPharma CEO Ron Squarer, and Boulder Ventures general partner Kyle Lefkoff.
But it isn’t just Colorado where the issue is a hot topic. Xconomy’s national biotech editor, Luke Timmerman, regularly writes about biotech clusters, and on Monday provided a national overview of the major clusters in the Xconomy network.
Luke focused on San Francisco and Boston, but his comments are applicable to anyplace that’s interested in developing a biotech cluster. Luke also identifies two Colorado companies—Array BioPharma (NASDAQ: ARRY) and Clovis Oncology (NASDAQ: CLVS), which are both based in Boulder—as “major league companies” with at least $100 million in cash and short-term investments in the bank—the kind of resources necessary to be independent “anchor tenants” for the region.
You can read Luke’s column for his full thoughts, including his view of what defines a successful cluster. I asked Mahaffy, Squarer, and Lefkoff for their thoughts about the topic during an interview in September.
The local pipeline
First off, no one anywhere thinks that Colorado competes with the major international clusters on the coast. In the same way Silicon Valley overshadows every other geography in the software and IT industry, San Francisco and Boston dominate the biotech world.
But the numbers show Colorado is doing fairly well in its weight class, to use a boxing analogy. According to the Colorado BioScience Association, there are 600 bioscience companies in the state, which include biotechnology, medical device, diagnostic, agricultural-bio, and pharmaceutical companies. Together they employ about 27,000 people.
Investors also know their way to Colorado. Over the past five years, venture capital firms have invested $1.63 billion in Colorado companies, and during that time larger companies have spent $10.17 billion to acquire companies based in Colorado.
Colorado also recently invested heavily in upgrading research facilities. Major projects are underway at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Fitzsimons Life Science District near the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. They are intended to create institutes or facilities that catalyze the growth of companies in the area.
Together, they show that the Colorado biotech industry can thrive and carve out a place for itself, Squarer said.
“I think this area, if people dig in and place some bets, has the potential to not be San Francisco or Boston, but something more akin … Next Page »
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