Viewpoint: Public, economic health depends on thriving bioscience sector
By Kurt Foreman and Michael Fleming
The immense value of Delaware’s bioscience industry has never been clearer.
At this moment, companies and researchers across our state are playing a transformative role in combatting the global COVID-19 pandemic.
These Delaware organizations are actively working on scientific advances that will save countless lives and help us regain our economic footing and quality of life.
Innovations include AstraZeneca’s development of a coronavirus vaccine and efforts to discover novel antibodies to prevent and treat progression of the disease; ChristianaCare Gene Editing Institute’s CRISPR-based diagnostic test for COVID-19; Incyte’s clinical trials of their medicine ruxolitinib to treat cytokine storm associated with the virus; LabWare’s rollout of a point-of-care mobile testing kit; Siemens Healthineers manufacturing of millions of antibody test;s and ILC Dover’s production of cutting-edge personal protective gear for health care workers and first responders. Newark-based ANP Technologies and QPS are developing and producing a range of COVID-related research and technologies.
Beyond those noteworthy local efforts, other Delaware scientists, engineers, mechanics, and skilled laborers are playing a pivotal role in fortifying a US-based supply chain through pre-clinical research and manufacturing of technologies and materials essential for biopharmaceuticals development. This also includes vital work in agricultural science and food safety.
Much of this activity is being conducted by world-class experts at smaller private firms and University of Delaware-affiliated research organizations such as the Delaware Biotechnology Institute and NIIMBL – the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals.
NIIMBL, a public-private partnership based at the STAR Campus, is accelerating biopharmaceutical innovation by scaling more efficient and rapid manufacturing capabilities; the initiative is fueled by a $70 million federal grant and it was recently awarded another $9 million for pandemic-related projects.
Another collaborative network, Delaware INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence), is laser focused on boosting research across UD, Delaware State University,
ChristianaCare, Delaware Technical Community College, Nemours/AI du Pont Hospital and Wesley College. These efforts have the real potential of saving millions of lives.
Importantly, the economic impact of these bioscience innovators is just as profound.
As Governor John Carney frequently says, you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy economy, and the contribution the bioscience industry is making to Delaware is hard to overstate.
A new study shows nearly 7,000 are employed in the bioscience industry in Delaware, working at 567 different establishments with an average annual wage of $114,000. These organizations were responsible for millions of dollars in investment and research grants: more than $52 million was received in NIH grants in 2019, another $70 million in academic R&D investment annually and nearly $300 million in venture capital investments over a three-year period ending in 2019.
From a national standpoint, the bioscience economy was at record strength when the pandemic hit. The bioscience industry employed 1.87 million across more than 101,000 U.S. companies in 2018, with a total economic impact of $2.6 trillion as measured by overall output.
And small and mid-sized companies – an area of increasing strength for Delaware – are driving that output, comprising 71 percent of total industry employment and 99 percent of business establishments. These companies have accounted for at least 60 percent of all FDA drug approvals each year over the past three years.
Even amid this crisis, bioscience remains strong. As of mid-May 2020, there were more than 400 drug programs in development aimed at COVID-19, including 100 vaccines and 135 antivirals.
Fortunately for the First State, in addition to having an unmatched heritage for scientific innovation we are part of a region with a thriving bioscience economy. Many highly-skilled workers travel regularly across Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to work in industry research, management, and manufacturing roles – a mutually beneficial exchange of talent.
Delaware’s health and economic future depends on the innovation the Delaware bioscience industry is delivering every day. As the state begins down the road of recovery from the devastation wrought by COVID on so many businesses, our bioscience economic engine will power future success.
We can help ensure this happens by focusing on several areas:
- Supporting and incentivizing development of much-needed ready-to-go lab space for small company expansion
- Training and developing a qualified workforce that includes both knowledge workers and those with manufacturing skills
- Nurturing partnerships between the state, our universities and industry to create more support for business incubation like the efforts underway at Delaware Innovation Space and the Delaware Technology Park
- Building on the presence of NIIMBL and the STAR Campus as a catalyst for innovation, research excellence and entrepreneurship
With this kind of focus and long-term commitment, Delaware can and will be one of the most dynamic and important hubs in the country for scientific innovation and investment – and the world will continue to benefit.