Capra: State Needs to Catch Up in Biotech Research

Article excerpt

Although Oklahoma's investment in biotechnology has grown in recent years, the pace of growth has not kept up with increases in surrounding states, leaving Oklahoma at a disadvantage when competing for biotechnology investment, according to Dr. J. Donald Capra, president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Speaking to attendees at the Oklahoma Biomedical Research Summit 2002, Capra noted that the per capita National Institutes of Health funding for Oklahoma in 2000 was $12.86. That trailed every state bordering Oklahoma, including Arkansas, which received per capita funding of $14.98. Other regional states fared far better: Texas received $36.33, New Mexico received $34.94, Colorado received $56.22, Kansas received $19.28, and Missouri received $64.63.

The national average was $51.19. The difference between Oklahoma's per capita National Institutes of Health funding and the national average equals more than $130 million that does not flow to the state creating high-paying jobs, Capra said.

National Institutes of Health funding for biomedical research brought $44 million to Oklahoma last year.

While Oklahoma's per capita average for NIH funding has increased 46.2 percent, growing from $10.57 in 1998 to an expected $15.45 in 2001, that growth rate still leaves the state trailing its regional competitors, Capra noted.

"Other states are simply doing better," he said. "Other states are simply investing more."

To become competitive, Oklahoma must invest in both human capital and new facilities, Capra said.

"What we don't have is more people," he said. "So as long as we don't have more people, we can never hope to really get to the really big dollars."

The addition of lab space in the state is a "critical" element needed to attract researchers to the state, Capra said. The low cost of housing and construction in Oklahoma, and the available room for expansion, give the state a competitive edge nationally.

"If you don't have buildings, you can't get scientists," Capra said. "The advantage that we have in Oklahoma when we're trying to recruit a scientist out of Boston or Stanford is we can show them a laboratory that's five-times the size of anything they can ever hope to have in an Eastern- or Western-coast city. If we don't have space, we can't attract them. We don't have an ocean. We don't have mountains. We don't have a lot of the amenities that people who live on the coasts like. But scientists don't necessarily groove on those things. They groove on space, and when I take them into a lab and show them 200,000 square feet of laboratory space, they'll take the job or at least we've got a shot at them."

Capra noted that other states with a foot in the biotech door used state bond financing to construct new research facilities. …