Can Houston become a major biotech center?I got to see Dr. Dan Monticello, Ph.D., President and Director of Molecular LogiX in The Woodlands, speak at The Houston Economics Club this week (held at the very cool new Federal Reserve building). He gave an overview of biotech in Houston, with strengths, weaknesses, and proposed solutions.
First, some of the strengths:
- World's largest medical center, including huge numbers of patients for clinical trials
- BioHouston supporting regional efforts from TAMU all the way to UTMB Galveston
- We educate (and export) a lot of talent
- Strong state funding via the Texas Enterprise Fund and the new $3 billion cancer initiative
- Rapidly growing and successful Texas Life Science Conference (attracted representatives with over $6 billion of venture capital)
- Extremely heavy competition (every city wants to be "the next San Diego")
- Nonprofit institutions are doing more development themselves, rather than outsourcing to private enterprises
- Easier for nonprofit institutions and universities to export ideas and talent than develop it here
- Lack of experienced biotech management
- No "soft landing" for failures (an executive is afraid he will move to Houston, and if his venture fails, there will not be other good biotech options for him to jump to)
- Insufficiently informed venture capital and ventures with an unfamiliar value proposition (locals understand oil and software, but not biotech and its long time frames)
An his proposed solutions:
- Support "pump priming" efforts
- Insist on regional cooperation
- Strategic recruiting (get more and larger biotech firms moved here)
- Monitor the state money (see strengths above) to make sure it is spent effectively
- More philanthropic investments (don't just give to TMC institutions, but to worthy biotech ventures)
Another idea: this is a total shot in the dark, but I've heard the FDA bureaucracy is very painful for biotech ventures. Could we cultivate partnerships with a network of Latin American medical institutions to make those clinical trials both faster and less expensive? Tapping that network might be very attractive to biotech startups.
Overall, my impression is that we're on the right track, it's just going to take many years of sustained efforts to get where we want to go. It's difficult for a city to have more than one primary focus industry - and ours is obviously energy - but if anybody can do it, I think we can given our tremendous foundation on the nonprofit side of health care. Building a for-profit side on top of it should be achievable.
Labels: economic strategy