Pennsylvania’s Life Sciences: The Price of a Cure

WHERE WE’VE BEEN, WHERE WE ARE — AND WHERE WE CAN GO NEXT

Recently the Pennsylvania House Majority Policy Committee and House Minority Policy Committee hosted a bipartisan hearing in Philadelphia to discuss the state of the life sciences industry, establishing policies and looking at ways of increasing the state’s competitiveness in the field. The speakers — game-changing industry leaders from the Philadelphia region — offered a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges that face the biotechnology sphere and what those policymakers in Harrisburg can do.

A few themes emerged from the speakers’ impassioned glimpses into the industry.

LIFE SCIENCES: VALUABLE IN EVERY WAY

However you slice it, a robust life sciences industry strengthens the state. Economically, it has made a significant impact in Pennsylvania, home to over 2,300 life sciences companies that employ 77,000 people — who make salaries averaging about $90,000. The state attracted $1.5 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health last year.

Numbers aside, the work that goes on within the life sciences industry can mean the difference between life and death. Dr. Stephen Tang, president and CEO of University City Science Center, called it a unique field. “All life sciences companies serve one higher mission: to improve the quality of life,” with the core function “to create technologies that will improve and save lives,” he said.

What better reason to support life sciences?

IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO YOU KNOW

The speakers emphasized the importance of developing lasting connections in the field, from the up-and-coming biotech employee or renowned industry leader to the investors and government representatives. To push life sciences forward and create innovative, life-changing products, it takes a village. “We call it an industry — but it might be more apt to call it a community or an ecosystem,” Tang said. To reach the cutting edge of competition and maximize investment capital, the state needs to bring out the best in the business.

Jane Holmes Hollingsworth, the founding managing partner of Militia Hill Ventures, runs a successful example of this collaborative concept. MHV helps new companies reach success by connecting them with the resources, capital, and industry and scientific expertise they need.

It’s a strategy that applies whether you’re involved in life sciences, law, public relations or virtually any other field. Collaboration makes the journey easier — and more worthwhile.

WE’VE COME FAR — BUT WE CAN GO FARTHER

The average person is likely aware that it takes a significant amount of time and money to develop a drug — but not many people realize the amount of work that goes into the process. According to Christopher Molineaux, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Bio, a successful product can take 10 to 12 years and more than $2.6 billion from the research to the distribution stage. The chances are stacked against the medicine, with odds of approval averaging 1,500 to 1.

Despite these daunting odds, there are over 1,700 drugs, therapies and medical devices in the pipelines of Pennsylvania life sciences companies. The focuses are on cancer, the central nervous system, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases and the immune system. Talented scientists across the state aren’t giving up on discovering cures — but they can’t do it alone.

While Pennsylvania has emerged as a key player in the life sciences field, other states continue to stride forward. “If you take an even cursory look around the nation, you will find [what Pennsylvania is doing] pales in comparison to other states,” Molineaux said. Massachusetts, for example, is in the middle of a $1 billion, 10-year commitment to invest in its industry, and New York, Maryland and Ohio also have pledged large funds to continue growing life sciences.

Here, innovation funds were reduced in this year’s budget from $25 million to $15 million, which speakers Tang and Molineaux urged to be fully restored. Molineaux recommended raising the cap on research and development tax credits that can be sold from $55 million to $100 million.  To help show the importance of these tax credits, Bravo Group, with the Communications Committee of the Life Sciences Leadership Advisory Council, has created and posts maps that show which companies in each legislative district receive them.

When asked how Pennsylvania’s government can support the industry, the speakers suggested following in the footsteps of other states by developing programs through which the state invests one dollar for every dollar a company attracts from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research grant program.

Conversation also surrounded the concepts of Keystone Innovation Zones, which give early-stage companies tax breaks, and biotechnology greenhouse programs, which provide funding and support for startups.

The decisions made in Harrisburg have a ripple effect on the industry and the state. With additional state funding, support and awareness, there’s no limit to the heights the biotechnology field can reach.

Jennifer Riley is a Managing Director at Bravo Group and is a versatile communications specialist who has a strong track record of success in many high profile issues by raising public awareness, framing tough issues and establishing the groundwork for winning.