“Quality in, quality out” – that is a fitting motto for any region that hopes to create a leading biotech sector. Ultimately, the quality of a region’s biotech sector will depend on the quality of four essential building blocks:
These building blocks – the “big four” – all promote the transition from academic research to market-oriented application. If a region lacks any of these attributes, it will struggle to gain a foothold in biotech. As it happens, in the Baton Rouge area, all the attributes are in place. And each attribute – each of the “A’s” – reflects the careful planning and sustained commitment of state and local development authorities. As a consequence, the Baton Rouge area is well positioned to be a player in biotech.
The importance of academics is stressed in Vision 2020, the master plan for economic development published by the Louisiana Economic Development Council. Vision 2020 recognizes that colleges and universities are key drivers in the emerging knowledge economy, particularly since the passage of federal legislation allowing government-funded research to be commercialized.
In fact, Vision 2020 suggests that Louisiana should follow the example of Research Triangle Park, which helps commercialize technologies developed at Duke, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University. Similarly, the Austin area has effectively leveraged the expertise and intellectual property cultivated at the University of Texas. In the Baton Rouge area, the key institutions of higher learning include Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University.
LSU is Louisiana’s flagship institution of higher education. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, it produces a market-ready workforce for the burgeoning biotech industry. And LSU supports several biotech-related research centers. Of particular note is the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. It is a 403,000-square-foot core research complex that houses 14 research laboratories and over $20 million in technologically advanced equipment. More than 80 faculty members and over 600 physicians, scientists and support personnel focus their research efforts on nutrition and health.
As if that were not enough, BioMMED, at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, is engaged in innovative research to determine the molecular basis of various diseases. It also works to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases.
To facilitate the transfer of technology from its various research centers, LSU maintains the Office of Research and Economic Development. To fulfill its mission, this institution obtains patents and copyrights, seeks licensees and business partners throughout the world and negotiates and licenses LSU’s technologies.
Research and technology commercialization are also prominent activities at Southern University, which maintains the Office of Research and Strategic Initiatives. This institution offers services to the faculty, staff and administration in identifying funding opportunities and in facilitating their efforts in securing and managing sponsored and elective research and creative activities.
To facilitate the technology commercialization process, many regional authorities have recognized the advantages of creating an intermediate stage—one bridging the ethereal realm of curiosity-driven research and the cold, cruel world of the competitive market. This is the incubator stage. Init, fledgling companies are housed in shared facilities, often at below-market rates. Incubator tenants not only share a roof, they may access shared resources, from office equipment to laboratories. Other resources include business services, including streamlined access to angel and venture capital.
In the Baton Rouge area, three incubators are up and running: the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, the Louisiana Emerging Technologies Center and the Louisiana Technology Park. A fourth incubator is under consideration. If approved, it will be located in West Baton Rouge.
The Louisiana Business and Technology Center (LBTC) incubator is part of a 47,000-square-foot facility on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. The incubator, which houses several biotech-related tenants, won the 2005 Randall Whaley Award for the No. 1 Technology Incubator. And it was designated the NBIA Business Incubator of the Year in North America. The LBTC has worked with more than 5,002businesses and entrepreneurs, developing over 2,394 business plans, starting nearly 479 businesses and creating more than 9,207 jobs for Louisiana.
The Louisiana Emerging Technologies Center (LETC) is a 60,000-square-foot wet-lab incubator. Tenants focus on the biotechnology, life sciences, agricultural and environmental industries. The LETC’s parent institution, the LSU System Research and Technology Foundation, facilitates the transfer and commercialization of LSU intellectual property to the marketplace.
The Louisiana Technology Park (LTP) is a private-public alliance. Intended to serve as a catalyst for the Internet, e-commerce and biotech industries, LTP was formed when Louisiana and the Research Park Corporation joined forces with the ECO structure alliance of EMC2, Cisco Systems and Oracle. The LTP is located at Bon Carré Business Center, a one-million-square-foot technology, research and business hub.
When Louisiana authorities assessed the state’s participation in research activities, they decided Louisiana’s universities were competitive. But they also decided they needed to bolster the state’s share of federally supported and industry-performed research, particularly since industry efforts represent 75 percent of the nation’s total research commitment. In addition, industry research is much closer to the marketplace, so it is expected to have a near-term commercial impact.
The Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund (BORSF) provides awards totaling $20–25 million annually to build the research infrastructure at Louisiana’s universities. Two important BORSF components are the Research Competitiveness Subprogram (RCS) and the Industrial Ties Research Subprogram (ITRS). The RCSis a stimulus program directed toward researchers who are expected to become competitive at the national level. The ITRS focuses on research proposals that show near-term potential for developing and diversifying the state’s economy.
To encourage existing businesses operating in Louisiana to establish or continue research activities within the state, Louisiana provides the Research and Development Tax Credit. Companies claiming Federal income tax credit for research activities are able to claim against state income and corporation franchise taxes up to 8 percent of the state’s apportioned share of increased research and development expenses or 25 percent of its apportioned share of federal research credit.
To encourage academic/industrial interaction, the state provides the Technology Commercialization Credit and Jobs Program. Under this program, companies partnering with Louisiana universities can claim an annual 15 percent credit against the costs of buying or leasing equipment, as well as the costs of securing access to intellectual property.
Louisiana is also a pioneer in administering CAPCO (Certified Capital Company) programs. Such programs are typically funded by insurance companies that may reduce their state tax liabilities by $1 for each $1 invested in state-certified investment companies or CAPCOs. In Louisiana, CAPCO ventures have reported over $1.5 billion in venture capital investment and created or retained 7,500 jobs. The Louisiana Technology Fund is a $2.3 million investment fund that represents the efforts of Louisiana’s CAPCOs and several research parks within the state. It is designed exclusively for investing in early-stage Louisiana technology companies.
Louisiana Economic Development and the LSU System Research and Technology Foundation have partnered to create the $35 million Louisiana Fund I. It provides capital to companies developing and commercializing promising technologies, particularly technologies emerging from Louisiana universities.
Yet another source of capital is the Louisiana Angel Network (LAN), a registered Louisiana Nonprofit Corporation headquartered in Baton Rouge. LAN is a select network of accredited investors across Louisiana that provides seed and early-stage investment capital to viable start-up companies ready for angel-round funding. Typically, LAN makes equity investments of $50,000 to $2 million.
The final “A” in the Baton Rouge area’s AAAA standing in biotech consists of aspiring biotech start-up companies. Most are to be found within the area’s three technology incubators. With time, as more and more aspirants graduate, many are expected to take root in the area, strengthening the sector and stimulating the growth of a highly trained workforce. Aspirants include Applied Science & Advanced Technologies (which works in environmental remediation); BioJENC (diagnostics); BrainVital (neurostimulators); Celgene (pharmaceuticals); Certis (agriculture); Esperance Pharmaceuticals (drug development); Ikaria (drug development); NuPotential (cell reprogramming); Ox-B Corp (biocides); Renautus Bio Therapeutics (tissue engineering); TransGenRx (protein therapeutics); Qyntessa Biologics (contract manufacturing); and U.S. Antigens (cells, biomass, and antibodies).