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Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 12:12pm

Georgia's Bioscience Field Is Growing

The state’s bioscience innovators highlighted new therapies to save lives at the Georgia Life Sciences Summit Wednesday in College Park. The industry survived the recession, and that’s thanks to a need for healthcare breakthroughs no matter the economy.

When Gov. Sonny Perdue trumpeted the bioscience field five years ago, the potential for jobs seemed limitless.
One initiative called the Innovation Crescent foresaw a Georgia edition of the Silicon Valley running from Athens to Atlanta.

Some of that early promise hasn’t panned out. For example, job growth was modest during the Recession. And right now, sequestration is squeezing the government grants the industry relies on.

But collaboration among Georgia’s bioscience hubs in Athens, Augusta and Atlanta is up. And bioscience jobs grew 1.5 percent between 2007 and 2010. By comparison, employment overall fell 8 percent during that period.

Russell Allen heads Georgia Bio, an industry group. He says the industry is less cyclical than others.

“Our businesses were able to continue to growing to meet the demand of the population to develop new products and services that help improve and saving lives,” he said in an interview. “That demand never went away regardless of the economic conditions.”

Aging baby boomers are aiding the growth. And Allen says they're interested not only in technologies that lengthen lives but also those that boost quality of life.

Wednesday’s summit made clear the breadth of companies in the field in Georgia.

One startup on a panel dedicated to new technologies is studying ways to cure AIDS. Another is experimenting with growing artificial limbs. Still another is focused on regenerating limbs.

Linda Black is with SciStem Therapeutics, based at the University of Georgia. She says the company’s regenerative cell technology may be able to help people at risk for amputation.

“Imagine combat veterans and Boston Marathon victims and trauma patients who are pre-amputation and about to lose their limbs being able to save their limbs because there is a therapy able to regenerate bone and blood vessels,” she told an audience of peers and students. “It sounds somewhat futuristic but really these technologies are in development today.”

Georgia boasts a deep bench of bioscience agencies and research operations. For example, it’s home to the Centers for Disease Control. And Georgia Tech, UGA and Georgia Regents University are aggressively converting home-grown research into for-profit companies.

According to a survey of the state’s industry, the average annual salary for a Georgian working in biosciences in 2010 was $64,000.