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Experts: Biotech no quick fix for state

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Economic developers around the state often tout biotechnology, or bioscience, as an industry they want to see grow in Colorado.

With tens of thousands of jobs lost in the metro area alone the past three years, the state can use whatever kind of economic jump-start it can get.

From an outside perspective, experts say the state seems to be on the right track, but warned against thinking of it in terms of any kind of “quick fix.”

“Make no bones about it — this is a marathon, this is not a sprint,” said Gayle Blakely Farris, president of Forrest City Boston’s university bioscience and technology group.

Farris knows of what she speaks: she was involved from the very beginning in the creation of University Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a 27-acre complex of life science companies adjacent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Twenty years ago, MIT acquired what was then a run-down, industrial area, and went into a development deal with Forrest City. Today, the complex is home to some of the world’s top research institutions and private bioscience companies.

“When we started the university park, we had never even heard of biotech,” said Farris. Initially, she said, her company even said no to a bid by Genzyme Corp. to locate its headquarters there. Last year, Genzyme had revenues of $1.6 billion.

“Guess what? When the second company came along we said ‘yes,’” said Farris.

But she said it took University Park a decade before it really developed into a thriving life sciences center, and that is why she urged her Colorado audience to be patient.

Farris was one of the panelists who spoke at a luncheon Tuesday sponsored by the DIA Partnership, an economic development group interested in the northeast metro area. Titled “Beyond Biotech,” the presentation was designed to give the local audience some outside perspectives on the subject.

Held at the Doubletree Hotel, across from the old Stapleton Airport, Farris talked about how her company is helping create the Denver Bioscience Center, 200 acres of land inside the 5,000 acre Stapleton redevelopment.

“You’ve got all the ingredients to make this a successful industry in Denver and in the state,” Farris said, noting that Colorado already has hit the “intellectual motherlode” with its top-notch research institutions.

Margaret Parton, a British expert in bioscience who helped develop a large bioscience cluster in southeast England, near the University of Cambridge, spoke of the relationship and synergy needed among universities and small and large private companies.

And it’s not only bioscience companies that need to be a part of that mix, she said.

“It’s essential that you provide the companies with business support and the growth capability to keep the companies here,” she said.

Generally speaking, the visitors had nothing but positive comments for the approximately 200 people who showed up for the luncheon.

A couple of speakers mentioned Amgen when discussing bioscience companies already here, and noted that the Fitzsimons complex in Aurora, a $4 billion life sciences center that will incorporate the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the University of Colorado Hospital — and Children’s Hospital by 2007 — has helped put the state on the national map.

Josh Meyer, an architect and managing principal with GPR Planners Collaborative Inc., has been programming and designing laboratory buildings for 19 years, and he said he’s very impressed by what he’s seen at Fitzsimons.

Meyer said that from his base in New York, he only became aware of Colorado’s bioscience community a few years ago. But he said he now believes this state has the right ingredients to become more of a player in the field, given its intellectual community and entrepreneurial spirit.

The quality of life here doesn’t hurt either, he said.

He recalls someone telling him, “‘We have over 300 days (of sunshine) here,’” Meyer said. “I did not know that — I just thought you were deprived of oxygen.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.