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Bioscience industry poised for WV growth, takes time

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An array of speakers from a swath of academia and industry came together in Charleston talk about the burgeoning business of biosciences this week.

The Bioscience Association of West Virginia hosted the third annual Biosciences Summit to showcase research and commercialization efforts in state laboratories and boardrooms. The event highlights the industry efforts in the state, attracting state leaders such as Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The event aims bring together private companies, universities, supplies, funders, policy leaders, opinion shapers and economic developers to the table to support the industry. Bryan Brown, executive director of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia, said the biosciences faces the challenge of often being a slow-to-grow industry.

"The biotech industry has a long lifespan and a long ramp-up period to success," Brown said. "It can take a decade or more for a company to find its profitability. One of things in our state is we sometimes take that mentality, ‘if they can't bootstrap it on their own and they can get it done in a year or two, they are failure.' In the life sciences, it's about taking time, it's about creating something that's never been done before and it's commercializing that."

As an example, Brown pointed to Diagnostic Hybrids, an Athens-based bioscience company. Its former CEO, Dave Scholl, was the keynote speaker at the event.

"It's a real inspirational story for West Virginia," Brown said. "The fact that he grew his business in Appalachia tells our bio-industry folks here in West Virginia that they can do it here."

Scholl said his primary message for those in the West Virginia biosciences industry is "it can be done here."

"I tried to focus the attention on the truth of what Diagnostic Hybrids was and quite honestly, early in the game it was a slow-moving, developmental company that would essentially create jobs and economic growth," Scholl said. "It didn't look like that at that beginning."

Then he said, after all the struggles, things got "very exciting."

"It takes time, it takes support and it takes persistence," Scholl said.

Brown said already in the state one can find a broad range of biosciences in various stages of development.

"You've got the spectrum here in the state," Brown said. "It starts on the left with university discovery and transitions into commercialization of those discoveries into small companies, the challenges those small companies face in trying to market their product to further develop their project to those larger firms on the other side of the curve that are now trying to significantly grow revenues and get to the point where they can make a profit. West Virginia has opportunities across that entire spectrum."

Brown said West Virginia is a great place to do bio business, though areas like funding present some challenges in the Mountain State.

"We need to do a better job of inventorying the research assets that are on the shelves at our university and creating a program to commercialize those assets to create jobs for West Virginia," Brown said. "Then we need to have programs and incentives in place to help those small companies through the rapids they have to face."

Despite its shortcomings in funding streams, West Virginia still has a lot of positive things attracting business.

"In the life science base, there is a huge talent pool in West Virginia and most of that base is attracted for the quality of life that is offered here," Brown said.