veryone knows Colorado is a great place to ski with world-class slopes and over 300 days of sunshine; but there is more to Colorado than just the great outdoors.
Colorado is the next frontier in life sciences. Every day, more than 600 Colorado bioscience companies help improve lives locally and around the world. The state has seen its bioscience industry continue to grow faster than the national average over the past five years with more than 20,000 employees, and in fact grew 1.8 percent last year when the rest of the country saw a 2.4 percent decline. Colorado ranks sixth in medical device employment and houses medical device and biotechnology companies such as Caridian BCT, Covidien, Baxa, Amgen, Merck, and Roche.
Top benefits to locating a bioscience company in Colorado are:
- The ability to recruit and retain technical and scientific employees: Colorado has 10 nationally recognized higher education institutions and 24 federal labs including the Centers for Disease Control, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the USDA. University of Colorado, Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines are ranked as three of the top public research institutions in the country.
- A $52-million Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant Program: The BDEGP program funds researchers and companies as they move from proof of concept to commercialization out of Colorado's top research institutions. This program has already created more than 21 new companies and more than 598 new jobs in the first three years.
- Top metro areas in which to live and work: Denver and Boulder rank among the top cities in the U.S., consistently ranking in the top three for entrepreneurism and the best place to work and play.
- Affordable operating costs: Companies can recruit the right talent at the right price. Colorado's average cost of living is 30 percent below East and West coast cities.
- Leading-edge bioscience district: A $5.2-billion Fitzsimons Life Science District and the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora is one of the largest bioscience developments in the country and occupies a 578-acre (234-hectare) site, not to mention the many research parks up and down the Front Range of Colorado. The University of Colorado's Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biology is building a $300-million research facility. CSU is nationally recognized as the leader in clinical veterinary oncology and cancer research, and has built a new Research Innovation Center that houses a hybrid incubator and academic research center.
More Capital, Less Red Tape
With all of Colorado's assets, there still remain several challenges to the bioscience industry on the local and federal level. It takes an average of 10 to 12 years and $1.3 billion to bring a drug to market, making it a long and difficult road to success. There are many changes on the horizon including FDA reform, healthcare reform and budget deficit-cutting measures that may potentially impact agencies such as NIH and affect the future of the bioscience industry. Three of the main challenges facing Colorado companies were recently outlined in the "Coloradans for an Innovation Economy Report."
- Attracting capital: Colorado businesses need capital to invest and grow, and right now capital is scarce. Venture capitalists are funding more later-stage companies, creating a larger financing gap for emerging companies. The upside to emerging companies has been recent changes in the larger pharmaceutical industry. Pharma is contracting quite a bit, with many companies losing between 20 and 40 percent of their revenues as many big name drugs go off patent in the next couple of years. Pharma is becoming much more nimble and cutting much of its R&D by investing in early-stage companies, where they can hedge their bets on many more novel drugs from the U.S. and abroad.
- Predictable business environment: Policymakers at all levels of government must make a long-term commitment to supporting innovation. With increasing changes at the FDA and not knowing what is expected with federal healthcare reform, the unpredictable business environment makes it difficult to attract investment to grow our companies. We also see the successful SBIR program facing reauthorization every year instead of Congress investing in a multi-year approach. Constant threats to NIH funding also threaten a critical piece of innovation within our research institutions, where most technologies are created and brought to commercialization.
- Reducing red tape: Regulation is necessary, but policymakers must act as partners, not inhibitors. The current lack of resources at the FDA combined with its risk-averse culture restricts the ability to create new drugs, biologics, devices and diagnostics, pushing many companies to seek approvals in other countries.
In spite of these challenges, Colorado's bioscience community continues to thrive. We have incredibly strong state and regional economic development offices and a dedicated community of business leaders who continue to strive toward making Colorado one of the best places to do business in the country.
Holli Riebel is president of the Colorado BioScience Association and co-chair of Coloradans for an Innovation Economy committee.