2007 Industry Report: Life Sciences

Investments inject new life into sector
By Irwin Speizer

Prescriptions

TREND: Venture capitalists are raising more money, and many companies plan to hire more employees.

OUTLOOK: Expect greater employment growth in 2007.

When Intersouth Partners sought investors early last year, the Durham venture-capital firm didn't have to look hard. Intersouth closed its fund in May with $275 million, the most it has ever raised. "Venture fundraising has been on a tear," spokeswoman Suzanne Cantando says. Much of the cash is coming from institutional investors flush with money they need to put to work.

That means there should be more money for North Carolina life-sciences startups to grow, and they've just wrapped up two big years, according to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Preliminary figures show venture funding statewide slipped about 7% in 2006 - to $310 million - but was at least 16% more than it had been in the four years prior to 2005.

The life-sciences industry is growing by other measures, too. Tar Heel organizations received 154 biotech-related patents in 2006, up from 117 the year before. Employment in drug manufacturing, research and development grew 3.2% to 34,308 in 2005, according to the state Employment Security Commission. And more jobs have come or are on the way. In January 2006, August C. Stiefel Research Institute of Coral Gables, Fla., said it would spend $50 million to move research on skin-care products to Research Triangle Park, creating up to 200 jobs. In March, United Therapeutics of Silver Springs, Md., said it would build a $54.3 million research and manufacturing complex in RTP, creating up to 160 jobs. Then in July, Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, part of Swiss drug maker Novartis, said it would build a $267 million flu-vaccine plant that will employ up to 350 in Holly Springs. Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience moved its North American headquarters from San Francisco to Cary, adding 65 jobs.

Major expansions last year included a $92 million project by British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline that will add 200 jobs to its Zebulon factory and a $100 million expansion of New Jersey-based Merck's vaccine plant in Durham that will add as many as 60 jobs to the 200 it had planned to fill when the plant starts production in 2008.

One of the biggest developments is taking shape in Kannapolis, where billionaire David Murdock, owner of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food, has begun work on a $1 billion biotechnology research center. In 2005, Murdock demolished 5.8 million square feet of textile plants closed when Pillowtex went out of business. In its place, he plans to build a 350-acre campus that he hopes will attract 100 companies that will employ about 35,000. Murdock says he will invest about $700 million in the center and set up a $100 million fund to help biotech entrepreneurs. He also wants $160 million in public improvements from the city and Cabarrus County. The University of North Carolina system has pledged $16 million to the project and plans to ask the legislature for $25 million a year to conduct research at the campus.

To make sure the state has enough workers to meet the growing demand, N.C. State University is building the $33.5 million Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center in Raleigh. It will be able to handle 2,000 students a year when it is finished early this year.

In 2006, two of the state's biggest contract drug researchers competed not just for business but for employees. After emerging from bankruptcy in March, Wilmington-based AAIPharma began rebuilding its operation, partly by hiring former executives of Durham-based Quintiles Transnational and recruiting current ones. Quintiles, which says it is the world's largest clinical-research organization, sued one of them, contending the move violated a noncompete agreement.

Quintiles doesn't want to lose many employees because it has ambitious expansion plans. In August, it said it would open a data-processing center in Martin County, creating 60 jobs within three years. In November, it announced plans to create 1,000 jobs in its hometown within six years. Increased demand for contract research also is reflected in the recent performance of Wilmington-based Pharmaceutical Product Development. It expects revenue to grow 10% to $1.1 billion in 2006 and 17% to $1.3 billion in 2007.

Quintiles and PPD aren't the only contract researchers expecting good things in 2007. INC Research, which moved from San Diego to Raleigh five years ago, added about 100 jobs in 2006 and began shopping for additional space near its Raleigh operations to accommodate growth.