Afterthoughts on the Life Sciences Summit

This morning I attended the Fifth Annual WBBA Governor's Life Sciences Summit. The breakfast was great; the talks were okay. 

I do enjoy the stories about people who's lives were saved because of biotechnology and I agree that the focus of the summit, research and discovery are important, but I can't help thinking about the missing piece.

For the past ten years, I've been involved in a national experiment to help build an educated workforce for biotechnology. Through that time, I've learned about one glaring area where Washington state is missing out.

There's one word for the missing piece.


The absence is especially poignant with the news that Dendreon, one our local Seattle companies, plans to build their bio-manufacturing facility in Georgia. Over and over again, during the past twenty years I've seen this story repeat itself. A Washington research institution or company discovers something and manufactures the drug somewhere else.

I know bio-manufacturing doesn't sound sexy. It's not a flashy word like "discovery" or "innovation." But nobody gets to take those miracle drugs like Enbrel unless someone makes them. And, bio-manufacturing has jobs. There are far more jobs in bio-manufacturing than there are in research. Further, bio-manufacturing jobs have a broader rearch into a community because people can find bio-manufacturing jobs without having to get a Ph.D. or even in many cases, a bachelor's degree.

The lack of a Ph.D. requirement doesn't mean that bio-manufacturing jobs involve unskilled labor. Operating tissue culture robots, a FACs machine, or a DNA sequencing instrument does require specialized training. It's just that this training can be provided by a more diverse set of institutions in a shorter period of time to a wider group of people. Consequently, bio-manufacturing has a wider impact on a larger cross-section of the community.

It would be nice if our leaders in Washington state could see beyond the research institutions and consider how to encourage biotechnology beyond the research stage so that our community could benefit from the change to make biotech drugs, not just the opportunity to take them.

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