A surge of investments in biotech companies could prove crucial to the state’s budding biotech sector and economic recovery.
Once relegated to the realm of science fiction, the ability to manipulate a genetic sequence has become a reality. With the potential to eliminate chronic diseases, treat cancer without radiation and grow vital organs in a lab, the biotech sector has become one of the state’s fastest growing industries.
A 2017 study by Pinnacle Economics, commissioned by the Oregon Bioscience Association, found that between private companies, public research institutions and hospitals, the biotech sector generates approximately $6.5 billion a year and creates almost 20,000 jobs annually.
Like the tech sector, Oregon’s universities and highly qualified workforce have made it a prime location for biotech companies. Companies from out of state, including Genentech and Twist Bioscience, are expanding their Oregon facilities. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting increased focus on emerging health technologies, some experts predict even greater growth in the coming years.
With a biotech investment surge taking place, Oregon could be on its way to becoming a leader in the sector, which could provide a boost to the state’s post-pandemic recovery.
Much of the reason behind the state’s emergence as a bioscience hub is due support from universities. Portland State University’s business accelerator has helped grow the industry by introducing young biotech companies to executives, investors and start-up entrepreneurs, as well as to each other.
In November, Oregon Health & Science University began a collaboration with NanoString Technologies, a Washington-based biotech company, to develop a new breast cancer detection technology using the company’s patented gene-profiling machine.
The bioscience sector has already seen increased activity in 2020. Biotech company Genentech recently completed a $175 million, 130,000-square-foot expansion to its Hillsboro facility.
Last year, San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience opened a facility in Wilsonville. The company announced the renovated space would be a “Factory of the Future.” The facility will manufacture synthetic biological materials, including clonal genes, large strands of DNA and artificial antibodies.
According to Angela Bitting, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Twist Bioscience, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated even greater interest in the industry.
“It’s been exciting to see the progress of private companies, public entities and government organizations all working together to fight the pandemic,” says Bitting. “It demonstrated all of the ways in which our platform to write DNA from scratch plays an instrumental role.”
Selling genes and antibodies creates a lucrative prospect when customers around the world demand a large volume of vaccines. Gene-sequencing products have the potential to stop pandemic strains from mutating. Demand for synthetic antibodies that fight diseases could also grow as consumers look for ways to boost their immune system.
So far, increased interest has translated into heavy investments. Biotech companies received $7.8 billion in private and public financing in 2020, according to a report from Synbiobeta, a market research firm specializing in the biotech sector.
The amount is nearly two-and-a-half times more than total investments in the sector last year.
Bitting says Oregon was a natural choice to expand its operation. Not only is the new facility a short flight from its San Francisco headquarters, Oregon’s highly educated workforce, similar culture and support from universities all factored into the company’s decision.
The increase in biotech investment could be a temporary high brought on by the global pandemic, but even if growth eventually slows, the surge of investment is coming at a good time for the state’s rapidly scaling biotech sector.
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