The Bioeconomy and what it means for regional economies

Prospects for a Bioeconomy: The Biomedical Industry and Economic Development, Cinda Herndon-King and Richard S. Seline, 2000

Without many too many facts to fall back on, I have proposed that hi-tech industry industries are moving away from a pure cluster model towards a 'network of competing and cooperating clusters.' This report backs me up as far as the biomedical industry is concerned. There's more on networks of innovation and regions collaborating to compete at the website of New Economy Strategies.

Cinda Herndon-King and Richard Seline analyzed 28 regions in the United States, with a special emphasis on the 4 most important clusters: Boston, San Diego, the Bay Area and Seattle. At the time the report was written, biotech was poised to pick up investments and momentum from the slacking internet bubble economy.

Herndon-King and Seline provide a comprehensive overview of the biomedical industry. They point out the enormous market potential of the health care industry in the U.S., mainly due to a population with a higher life expectancy that is aging overall. However, much of the potential also arises from the fact that genomic pharmaceuticals allow much more personalized healthcare and a much vaster scope of treatments - beginning with highly targeted preventive care.

They cite Mark Dibner and list 7 factors which distinguish the biomedical industry from other high tech sectors:
1. Financing: The start-up costs of business are high, and generally not financed by the entrepreneur
2. Reliance on research base: Most (55%) of biotechnology companies engage in activities which are in the research and development phase only.
3. Time to market: Typically, between five to twelve years is required. Return on investment for early investors is not based on product sales but from increasing valuation of the company, realized upon exit.
4. Regulatory environment: The cost of the the drug development and approval process is estimated at an average of $300 to $500 million per drug. The time required for approvals can be highly variable, and can often depend on factors outside the control of the submitting company.
5. Dependence on patent issues: Attracting investment requires a strong global intellectual property position.
6. Alliances and outsourcing: Due to the high costs of doing business, biotechnology firms extensively leverage outside skills, technology and capital through alliances. Reliance on academic innovation has emerged as the primary factor affecting biotechnology industry cluster devlopment.
7. Influence of public perception and environment.

Two major trends that form a recurring theme throughout the report are:
1. the interrelationship of tools and enabling technology with basic scientific discovery. The distinction between providing equipment or software and conducting basic research is blurred since so much discovery depends on the development of specialized or custom-made new tools.
2. the requirement for interdisciplinary approaches to biomedical research, bioinformatics being a case in point for both trends.

The authors go on to describe 2 phases of the industry:

The first wave business model centered on the 'full integrated pharmaceutical company' that licensed, financed, managed, and fought the federal regulatory labyrinth around (typically) a university patent or paper. This fully-integrated model housed the research, the testing, the manufaturing, and the distribution and sales for all aspects of bringing a drug or product to the market.

The second wave of the biotech industry is best defined by the reliance upon outsourcing and business networks rather than the integration model. Simply, the biotech and life science industry has found alliances, networks among researchers-vendors-suppliers, and a more concentrated and accelerated focus of both the science and the economics to be not just valuable but competitive propositions.

This has implications for regional economies that focus on biotech/biomed:

The Second Wave therefore is permeating regional strategies: proximity is no longer a value proposition in all elements of the lifecycle. Proximity to new ideas, to faculty, to research facilities promises greater innovation (defined as a social process among inputs of the science and outputs of entrepreneurial formation), but as firms mature the proximity demand within a region is challenged. Seattle for instance found in the late 1980s that no strategic marketing firms existed in their region and thus turned to Los Angeles and New York for assistance. Over a three year period, enough demand was created in Seattle that approximately 30 firms were established to serve the growing strategic marketing and sales requirements – many were outpost from Los Angeles and New York, others were home-grown. Currently San Diego has exceeded its manufacturing capacity – land is in short supply and costly; an initiative is underway to partner with border cities in Mexico and communities outside of California for non-essential manufacturing services.

There is a shift from self-contained regional clusters to specialized networked regions (see graph on page 44 of the report).

This is a reflection of changes in the industry itself as it moved from full vertical integration within one firm to a greater reliance on networks and alliances.

Proximity matters but not as it once did - like a fully-integrated company, regions believed that they must manage or control all aspects of the product cycle. With the determination that not every region has all the critical ingredients, more and more expectations arise for networking with other institutions, knowledge, talent and entrepreneurs beyond the local community. Proximity matters because innovation is a social process but not all aspects of the product testing and development must rely on the capacity to 'rub shoulders' with the testing, trials, and manufacturing aspects of the industry.

But the question remains: Which aspects require shoulder rubbing, and which don't?

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