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Alabama’s robust bioscience sector steps into spotlight at BIO Alabama event

The bioscience industry has a far-reaching influence in communities across Alabama and beyond, a fact that’s been shown most recently in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s researchers and entrepreneurs have stepped up in a major way, with contributions that support diagnostic testing, potential treatments and vaccine development.

The economic impact of Alabama’s bioscience industry is estimated at $7.3 billion. The sector encompasses 780 companies, 48,000 direct and indirect jobs, a $68,000 average annual salary and $1.3 billion in National Institutes of Health funding during a recent year.

Next week, industry leaders will discuss growing those numbers, as well as new opportunities for the breakthrough developments that drive them, at BIO Alabama’s virtual annual conference.

BIO Alabama
Michelle McMurry-Heath is CEO of BIO-Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the world’s largest biotechnology advocacy group.

“From capital investments to research and development, Alabama’s bioscience industry is critically important to our state and we are proud to work closely with partners like the Department of Commerce to help ensure the future of the industry and its role as an economic driver,” said Sonia Robinson, executive director of BIO Alabama.

“Small- and mid-sized companies play a significant role in our bioeconomy, and the Alabama bioscience community has responded rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Now, more than ever, connectivity and collaboration are important, and the conference offers a chance to bring the bioscience community together, Robinson said.

VIRTUAL CONFERENCE

With more than 20 sessions and 40 presenters, the conference will focus on five key areas: economic development; funding and access to capital; diversity, equity and inclusion; COVID-19 and scientific research; and entrepreneurs and startups.

Other topics include biopharmaceutical manufacturing, bioagriculture and precision and genomics medicine.

Keynote speakers are:

  • U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama
  • Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of BIO-Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the world’s largest biotechnology advocacy group
  • Bob Hess, site selection expert and vice chairman of global corporate services at Newmark Knight Frank
  • Regina Benjamin, an Alabama native and former U.S. Surgeon General who is a leader in developing community-based health strategies for low-income and rural communities

Registration is open for the conference, which will be held Oct. 5-9.

COMBATING COVID-19

BIO Alabama
Dr. Regina Benjamin is an Alabama native and former U.S. Surgeon General who is a leader in developing community-based health strategies for low-income and rural communities.

From pillars of the industry to startups, multiple Alabama players have been taking aim at COVID-19.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has raised more than $1.1 million dedicated to clinical and basic research projects proposed by UAB faculty in the School of Medicine. Fifty-two proposals were submitted, with 14 basic science projects selected for funding.

UAB also is participating in global clinical trials of COVID-19 treatments, and it has teamed with Birmingham’s Southern Research and Scripps Research to test drugs that could be effective against the virus. Southern Research has launched its own internal program focusing on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Elsewhere in Birmingham, TriAltus Bioscience LLC developed protein purification technology to support research into a new vaccine under development in Oregon.

Meanwhile, Huntsville Hospital, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and diagnostic technology firm iRepertoire, located on the HudsonAlpha campus, are collaborating to study how the human immune system responds to the virus.

Other HudsonAlpha companies, Diatherix and iCubate, have been involved in developing tests.

In addition, the Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board awarded $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s patent-pending saliva collection device.

The support will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA.

GROWTH TARGET

Expanding the state’s bioscience sector is a strategic priority for the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We have exceptional strengths in biosciences, including world-class research organizations and a roster of cutting-edge companies, so it’s a natural growth area for the state,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“We’re committed to helping accelerate the development of the life sciences sector, and we want the state to become home to more of these high-paying jobs and the talented individuals who fill them,” he added.

Secretary Canfield will join Greg Barker, head of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, in a BIO Alabama discussion on the importance of the bioscience industry and how private and public initiatives can help further expand Alabama’s global impact. This conference session will be Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 11:45 a.m.

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