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Houston Dares to Challenge the Bicoastal Model of Biotech Growth

Opinion

Xconomy Texas — 

World-class universities, prominent medical institutions, a talented workforce, access to capital and favorable geography are critical factors required to stimulate and support a dynamic regional bioscience industry. Some might believe that these factors only converge along the coasts of New England and California, and many new and growing biotech companies may feel that they are not able to operate effectively in other regions.

While no one can argue the immense success of the bi-coastal biotech industry in Boston and San Francisco, Houston has seen strong growth in this sector and, for Opexa, Houston has been the perfect location to nurture medical innovation and the development of novel medical breakthroughs.

Houston provides easy access to world-class research institutions, including the Baylor College of Medicine where Opexa’s technology originated. The UT Health Science Center, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the Texas Medical Center offer expertise equal to any biopharma development hub. Houston’s knowledge centers are a critical resource in allowing local biotech firms to incorporate the latest scientific developments into promising new therapies and diagnostics.

Capital generated from oil and gas exploration and development over the past several decades is being increasingly deployed in the healthcare sector. While the initial focus may have been to support and build one of the largest and best hospital systems in the world, we are seeing some of these efforts directed to the biotech sector, in part from a recognition of the value of diversification beyond energy.

From the early success of Tanox, founded more than 20 years ago (and acquired by Genentech in 2007), through the past decade of Opexa’s investments in medical innovation and the recent IPO of Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, we have witnessed the robust growth of Houston biotech. Numerous startup companies are being spun out from local academic centers, resulting in a dynamic entrepreneurial community.

Geography and a city’s infrastructure also play an important role in a company’s decision to put down roots. For Opexa, with our patient-specific therapies that follow each individual patient’s course of disease, Houston’s central location within the U.S. and its two international airports maximized our transportation options for shipments and for travel to clinical trial sites nationwide. The space available to situate our manufacturing facility together with our corporate headquarters has also provided us with numerous efficiencies and cost savings.

While late-stage biotech firms may be able to expand into expensive real estate in crowded urban areas, rapidly growing, early-stage companies that need to be resourceful may find that choosing a location with plenty of space is the better choice. In addition to the convenience of our location in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, the area’s high quality of life has helped Opexa successfully recruit the best employees, not only locally, but from across the United States—even from Boston and San Francisco.

Whether you are looking to start, to expand, or to join a biotech firm, think broadly about the location that will best position you for success. Attractive options exist beyond the two coasts and Houston is second to none.