Tuesday, October 20, 2009

State bioscience group formed

West Virginia's bioscience firms have started a new group in hopes of expanding the biotech industry across the state.

The BioScience Association of West Virginia will be made up of biotech companies and organizations, as well as research groups at Marshall University and West Virginia University. The statewide association will be an affiliate of the National Biotechnology Industry Association.

"This organization will coordinate the exchange of ideas and research, develop new business relationships and expand efforts to attract economic development opportunities for biosciences in our state," said Gov. Joe Manchin in a prepared statement.

About 6,900 people across the state work in bioscience jobs, according to a study by WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. In 2006, the average bioscience worker earned more than $55,000 a year. Bioscience employees made a combined $1 billion in wages. The industry creates about $7.2 billion a year in economic activity across the state, according to the WVU study.

Bioscience employment is largely concentrated in Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown and Tyler County. Monongalia has the most bioscience employees -- 2,269, followed by Kanawha County with 2,033. West Virginia has about 241 firms that work in bioscience fields. Those firms include organic chemical and fertilizer manufacturers, biopharmaceutical companies, and biological research facilities and testing laboratories.

Patrick Kelly, vice president of government relations for the national bio-tech group, said Manchin's "Bucks for Brains" initiative -- a plan to stimulate research jobs at WVU and Marshall -- has given West Virginia's nascent bioscience industry a "tremendous shot in the arm." The state spends about $4 million a year on the "Bucks for Brains" program.

"We look forward to working with [the West Virginia BioScience Association] to help promote the bioscience industry development, champion science education and help attract high-skill, high-wage jobs to the state," Kelly said.

The West Virginia biotech group has started a membership drive. Its Web address is www.biowv.org.

Derek Greg, chief operating officer at Vandalia Research in Huntington, is chairman of the statewide association. Steven Turner, chief executive officer of Protea Biosciences in Morgantown, also will serve on the group's board of directors.

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