OKC a finalist for federal biotech money

Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2022 By: Kathryn McNutt Source: The Journal Record

Partners working to expand the biotechnology industry in central Oklahoma met Monday with a U.S. Economic Development Administration official who quizzed them about their process.

Oklahoma City is a finalist in the EDA’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which could provide a $55 million grant to support further development of bioscience and bio-pharma manufacturing in the region.

“Today we’re here to recognize the cooperation that’s taking place in Oklahoma City around the bio innovation cluster,” said Dennis Alvord, the EDA’s deputy assistant secretary for economic development and chief operating officer. “And we’re really excited about what we’ve read and heard about the partnerships that are forming and how you’re looking to position your region and your economy for future success.”

Alvord commended the Oklahoma City coalition for building a strong public-private partnership that can work to effectively scale the region’s biotechnology sector.

The Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster was chosen as one of 60 finalists from 529 applicants nationally and received $500,000 to further develop its plan in support of the grant.

The plan focuses on the dual goals of supporting next-generation drug developers (existing companies) and creating a more favorable environment for commercializing research (new companies). The coalition says integration across the product life cycle – research and development, manufacturing, and clinical trial capacity – will offer a frictionless and cost-effective environment for drug development.

Alvord said the EDA is focusing on disparities in the economy and is committed to supporting equitable outcomes for regions so that “everyone can benefit from these types of opportunities.”

“We’ve learned that we have to think differently. We’ve got to be innovative in the future in the way we’re approaching economic development,” he said, noting the BBB Regional Challenge is the EDA’s first time to drive place-based, cluster-oriented economic development.

EDA officials randomly selected 13 finalists where they are conducting coalition conversations throughout April and May to learn more about how regional coalitions developed their strategies.

The vision of the Oklahoma City coalition is to invest in infrastructure, including labs and research facilities, a workforce training center and startup/incubator facilities, all with the purpose of addressing and overcoming persistent challenges plaguing the global biotech industry.

“There’s an alignment happening here like I’ve not seen before,” said John Hanak, chief innovation and corporate officer at the University of Oklahoma. “There are just some great things here. We need a little more jet fuel to accelerate things.”

Hanak came to OU seven months ago to lead a new office focused on integrating the university’s efforts in technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and corporate partnerships for sponsored research and education.

Jeff Seymour, executive vice president of economic development at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said he is optimistic about the city’s chances to be one of the 20 finalists to receive a grant.

The Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster is based on “what already was a success story in the region and how to scale that” and on the need to build domestic capacity, particularly around pharmaceuticals, he said.

The Oklahoma City region was on a path to address the biosciences sector long term even before the grant program came along, Seymour said.

“Regardless of getting the grant, there are projects that we have to get off the ground,” he said. “These dollars would accelerate that.”

The plan addresses the disconnect between the Innovation District and people in the surrounding neighborhoods who don’t have access to jobs in the district, Seymour said. It calls for establishing a workforce training center to meet the growing demand for skilled labor in the sector and provide non-degreed career pathways into high-wage jobs.

“From a macro level, our economy is doing great now,” Mayor David Holt said. But that economic success is not happening equitably across the city and across all demographic groups.

Holt said the city has started doing things to address that – things many other big cities did 30 years ago. “EDA’s potential assistance allows us to accelerate that and catch up faster, and for the sake of our residents we want to do that,” he said.

This story originally ran on the JournalRecord.com. 

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