Colorado joins push to boost bioscience research

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Colorado is joining the bandwagon of states that are providing grant money to encourage bioscience research.

The legislature has earmarked $2 million of state gaming proceeds for small grants to encourage bioscience research and development of new technologies. That money, available only once, could be the catalyst for job and industry growth, said Brian Vogt, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the agency responsible for administering the grants.

“We’re looking at projects and research institutions now,” he said. “We’re developing a fairly comprehensive list of groups that are eligible for the grants – mostly research institutions, but a few private organizations as well.”

This money is “critically important,” said Denise Brown, executive director of the Colorado Bioscience Association, who lobbied for the grant program.

“When we looked at our legislative agenda, we realized there is not a lot of the money needed to do things like industrywide tax credits,” she said. “So we brainstormed what would be a relatively low-cost project that would have a big impact. This bill is our best strategy.”

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is one local organization that is on the list to receive grant dollars. The University of Colorado system, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines also are included on list.

Once the players are identified, Vogt said his office will outline the rules for applying for funding. He expects the rules to be in place by Sept. 1, making the $2 million available for a variety of projects.

“The grants will stimulate bioscience research,” he said. “We do expect the demand to outpace the pull. The fund is very limited, but it’s a start.”

In making the money available, Colorado is following a national trend. Both California and Utah are spending millions of dollars to encourage the growth of bioscience technology in their states.

The benefits are obvious – more jobs. According to a report released in April at the BIO 2006 conference in Chicago, national employment in biosciences reached 1.2 million in 2004, an increase of slightly more than 1 percent in three years. Workers earned an average annual income of $65,775.

Vogt believes the state funds will shorten the transition from research to commercial use.

“Investing in research at the state level is just one way to stimulate job creation,” he said. “While our pool of money is very small compared to other states, it’s still a good start. In Colorado, we like to see the proof, and in this case, that proof is job creation. In theory, we’ll know that this works once we go through this process – and it creates more wealth than it costs.”

Instead of casting a wide net, like California has done with stem cell research, Brown said the association hopes the funding will provide the money necessary to bridge the middle ground between research and commercialization.

“We hope this will speed up the process from a research project to a commercial project,” she said. “And then we’ll speed up creation of new bioscience companies in Colorado. Our approach is different, because we have good research programs at places like CS (Colorado State), CU (University of Colorado) and the School of the Mines.”

Brown said the plan is to examine the best research projects at major research institutions and through a “grow our own” strategy, create companies from those ideas.

“We’re beginning to see the fruits of that strategy,” she said. “And that’s where this grant money comes in. Often, there will be a research project that creates a product, but no way to tell how easily or successfully that product will become commercialized. It takes between $20,000 and $200,000 to find that out. Once you discover that piece, you can be smarter about the strategy needed to create a company for the project. Without that piece, your marketing strategy is flawed.”

Bioscience funding by state

California residents approved a $3 billion bond issue in 2004 that would fund embryonic stem-cell research.
Ohio has committed $1.1 billion to a project that provides early-stage equity funding, low-interest-rate loans and research-facility funds to emerging industries.
The North Texas Opportunity Fund has a mandate to pour at least $200 million of its $400 million into emerging technologies, which include bioscience companies.
Kansas has dedicated $580 million during the next 10 years to bioscience funding.
Pennsylvania is considering a bill that would give $1 billion toward bioscience, called the Jonas Salk Fund.
Georgia approved $1.1 million for bioscience funding in its 2007 budget.
Maryland approved $15 million for stem cell research
New Mexico lawmakers approved $1.4 million for the New Mexico Economic Development Partnership, which focuses on incentives for six industries, including aerospace, agribusiness, distilling and brewing, manufacturing, renewable energy, and technology.
South Dakota legislature approved $3.4 million for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the full request of Gov. Mike Rounds. The Division of Research and Commerce will receive $4 million.