Role of States Increasing in Biotechnology Research

Article excerpt

RALEIGH, N.C. - State governments are playing a more important role than ever before in financing biotechnology research and helping young companies develop new products, according to industry analysts and state officials.

Thirty states have established industrial programs in biotechnology, and they are likely to spend $150 million this year to aid university researchers, build new institutes and provide seed money to fledgling companies, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment has estimated. The office is preparing a study on investment in biotechnology.

Although it is a fraction of the $4 billion spent each year to unravel the mysteries of genes and develop new pharmaceuticals, crop plants, livestock varieties and other products, spending by states is growing faster than any other area of investment in biotechnology, analysts say.

The gush of state spending, which materialized in the last two years, reflects the enthusiasm of lawmakers who believe that investment in biotechnology research not only will give birth to new companies and encourage employment but will also yield inventions and production techniques that will revive agriculture, forestry, mining and fishing.

``Investing in this technology is a natural for North Carolina,'' said Lt. Gov. Robert B. Jordan, who since 1981 has been instrumental in developing the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the nation's oldest state program. ``So much of our economy comes from the water and the soil. We also have a huge stake in medical research and in health care. All of these industries are going to be affected by developments in biotechnology.''

Analysts pointed out, though, that no state was spending more than North Carolina, which has authorized $6.5 million this year to do such things as help a poultry company develop an automatic machine for vaccinating chickens before they hatch, and building a new laboratory at North Carolina State University for a top forestry scientist.

In contrast, it has taken an investment of nearly $400 million for Genentech, the California company widely regarded as the most successful biotechnology concern, to bring two products to the market. …