Experts at a conference in Des Moines Tuesday said Iowa can become a major player in the biotech industry. Doug Getter is the executive director of the Iowa Biotechnology Association which hosted the forum on biotechnology. He says the future in the next decade and beyond “rests in the application of science and knowledge.” He says if Iowa doesn’t take advantage of its scientific strengths, others will. Getter says Iowa has a big advantage in one area. He says, “We got the agricultural niche, and that’s exactly what were trying to play to the strength on. A lot of other states have looked to human medicine and vaccines, and medical devices, but our niche is agriculture.” Getter says agriculture has a lot of potential beyond the farm. He says they’re finding that agriculture sciences in both plant and livestock in the human deliver of health are on a course to intersect. He says they’ll be able to look at developing plants and draw special things from livestock that impact human health the things we all need to have. Getter says that one of the things they need to stress is that biotechnology development is different from regular economic development. He says, “The lead time for doing a project is anywhere from two to five years before you start seeing success, whereas with the conventional economic development, you locate in a spec building on the edge of town and start selling product next week.” He says the sciences require a lot of lead time and you have to make the investments as they evolve. Getter says many of the experts highlight the need for a strong partnership between the public and private sectors. Wanda Mobius with “Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America” said Iowa’s poised to burst on the bio-tech scene. Things that need to be taken into consideration include educational environment, access to innovation, and existing research-and-development organizations in the state. Overall Iowa’s ranked 28th in the nation, which she says is great but also shows that more can be done. The association paid for a study by the Milken Institute that suggests increased investment in bio-technology and public-private partnership is the key to Iowa’s future in the industry. Mobius says the top states now — Massachussetts, Maryland and Connecticut, have a strong education and research environment. She says you can build once you have a strong base, calling it a “cluster effect,” saying that’s what seventh-ranked North Carolina is doing right now to climb the charts. Noting Wyeth Pharmaceuticals already has a strong presence in Iowa, she says it’s a matter of building off the base and attracting other companies to see that Iowa’s a great place to work. The forum at the state historical building in Des Moines was sponsored by the bio-tech industry, pharmaceutical researchers, and Iowa business groups.
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