Bioscience jobs in the United States grew seven times faster than those in the rest of the economy from 2001 through 2012, with Baton Rouge and New Orleans ranking high in one category.
The Baton Rouge area ranked second among the nation’s largest metros in 2012 for concentration of bioscience jobs within agricultural feedstock and chemicals, at 1,345, and New Orleans ranked eighth, at 792, in the same category, according to a report by Battelle and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, or BIO.
In addition to chemical and fertilizer companies, as well as crop processors, that bioscience category includes jobs tied to the production of ethanol and other biofuels.
Those jobs and companies were among many discussed by speakers and panelists Friday at the Digital Media Center Theatre on the LSU campus. The conference focused on ways to advance biomedical, bioengineering and agricultural research and development at LSU and across Louisiana and the nation.
Speakers included James C. Greenwood, BIO’s president and chief executive officer.
“It’s very clear … that Louisiana has a biotechnology sector that is real,” Greenwood told the audience. He noted, however, that many of the nation’s wealthiest venture capitalists are located in California and Massachusetts.
Although Louisiana’s leaders are ambitious, funding for university researchers and small biotechnology companies is necessary for continued growth, Greenwood said.
“You’re not going to be San Francisco overnight,” Greenwood said. “You’re not going to be Boston overnight.”
The Battelle and BIO report shows Louisiana lost at least 1,000 nonagricultural bioscience jobs from 2001 through 2012.
Because powerful venture capitalists in California and Massachusetts won’t visit many individual states to listen to funding requests, Greenwood suggested a regional effort might be more successful in gaining their attention. He said small-business owners in states like Louisiana could work together with those in several other states to establish one location for all to meet the folks with the money.
States must support university researchers, Greenwood said, and researchers must figure out a commercial application for each new development breakthrough.
Those who control purse strings must remember that some important research and marketing plans take lots of time.
“If you build a better mousetrap, you can sell it tomorrow,” he said. “If you develop a molecule that could cure brain cancer today, it would take 12 years” to test and then market to the public.
When a biotechnology company is awarded a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the federal government, Greenwood said, state government should match it.
“Most job growth is in small businesses,” he added.
BIO is a Washington, D.C., trade association that promotes and lobbies for biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the U.S. and more than 30 other countries.
Greenwood said he does not understand some people’s opposition to the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, to produce disease- and pest-resistant food crops.
“Most of (the opponents) wouldn’t know a GMO if they fell over it,” he added.
At a time when climate change threatens people and crops, Greenwood said, “We’re headed toward a population of 9 billion people on this planet.”
When asked about the high prices of life-saving drugs in this country, Greenwood said Medicaid can help some people.
“I have a problem right now with the insurance industry,” Greenwood said. He said lack of adequate health insurance is “driving sick people away” from medical treatments.
“It’s not insurance if you have to pay 30 percent out of pocket,” Greenwood said.
Outside the meeting, Greenwood also said research and development of important new drugs to combat cancer and other life-altering diseases will grind to a halt in the U.S. if pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to charge prices that cover their research and development expenditures.
He conceded that Canada and several European countries place limits on the price of such drugs, including those produced in the U.S. He insisted, though, that research and development expenditures by drug companies in those countries do not match those of companies in the U.S.