Pennsylvania Governor. Josh Shapiro traveled to Doylestown on Thursday to learn first-hand the challenges facing the life sciences industry and how his administration could address them. Access to capital was, unsurprisingly, the number one challenge.
Around two dozen biotechnology executives, scientists, and academics gathered in the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center Bucks County to have a roundtable with Shapiro. Shapiro had presented a $44.4 Billion budget proposal last week, which included millions of dollars of funding for initiatives that support innovation, STEM education, and workforce development.
The proposed budget includes an increase of $12 million for the Pennsylvania First Program. This program supports expansion projects, and brings businesses that offer high-paying positions to the state.
Shapiro believes that the biotechnology sector is one of the three main drivers for the Pennsylvania economy along with energy and robotics/artificial Intelligence sectors.
The Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, which opened in 2006, is home to more than 50 biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies. In the last six years, it has created over 500 jobs, and had an economic impact worth $7.3 billion on the state.
"One thing that you should know about me is that I am fiercely competitive; I don't like to lose," said the governor, noting how other states invest more in life sciences than Pennsylvania. "We are looking to invest in companies, incubators and other organizations that do incredible work. We are focusing on areas that we believe have great potential, with biotech as a major one .... This budget is a downpayment.
He said that in the future, he would like to do more for Pennsylvania so it can compete with states who have supported the life sciences sector longer.
Shapiro stated, "We have the most talented workers, best human capital and are in a great position." We have excellent research institutions. "We have it all."
Shapiro says that the state government must commit funding for the industry to "explode and grow at an incredible level."
As Dr. Randall Hyer of Merlin Biotech pointed out, funding is an important issue for both mature and early-stage companies.
Hyer stated that he represents a company in the "valley of death," a place where promising companies and technologies languish because they cannot raise the funding necessary to maintain their growth and development. Once you have clinical data, your valuations will go up. Investors will come out of hiding. But we're not there yet. "Right now, I am in the valley. We're desperate for cash."
Hyer, also the president of the Blumberg Institute in the biotech centre, said that a state investment at this stage would have a "really significant impact." He has said that a Silicon Valley investor has shown interest, but he is not interested in moving Merlin Biotech from Doylestown, where it has its headquarters. Merlin Biotech was spun off from the Blumberg Institute, and uses proven mRNA technologies to develop new vaccines and therapeutics.
He said, "I had to take back the reins and slow down the development of drugs that could have been life-saving." "My three biggest challenges are: funding, funding, and funding," he said.
Mary Beth Harler is the president of autoimmunity at IGM Biosciences. She said that the California-based 20-year-old company, which set up a presence in the Bucks County Biotechnology Center last year, will probably be looking to start manufacturing operations in the next few to years, and she would prefer to do so locally. The company's decision to establish at the center was partly due to the availability of experienced pharmaceutical talent across all aspects of the industry. Without funding or support, this may be difficult.
Harler stated, "We want stay here." "We see many positives, beyond talent. We see a vibrant community that families will want live in. It's cheaper here to live and operate ..... We will face some difficult choices in the coming years, when we are looking at large manufacturing needs, as well as an investment of hundreds of millions.
Shapiro is not just interested in tax credits for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, but also those who are still at the pre-revenue phase. These credits are not practical as companies work to get their new drug candidates approved through the regulatory process.
Shapiro believes that tax credits and direct investment are important and he wants to increase the amount of money the state allocates for them.
He said, "I talk every day about the fact that Pennsylvania is open for businesses." "We have to invest in jobs today, which will lead to breakthroughs in the future.
Shapiro's office will serve as "a connector" to help companies connect with private investors, manufacturing firms, or other entities as required. He wants to facilitate more connections between universities, middle and high school students and manufacturers. This could create interest in the industry as well as a talent pipeline.
Shapiro was the first governor in office to visit the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center.