Oregon leaders mobilize to transform ‘sleepy’ industry

“Oregon’s sleepy biotechnology industry is finally showing signs of life.”

That’s a direct quote from a story my colleague Andy Giegerich wrote more than four years ago for the Business Journal. It’s also the thesis of Friday’s cover story in our weekly edition.

Plus Ça Change …

Portland has long been home to dozens of biotech companies, some of them spinoffs from Oregon Health & Science University, some not. But somehow, the city has never generated the huge success stories that would put it in the biotech big leagues, alongside the Bostons, San Franciscos and San Diegos.

The reasons are varied, but mainly have to do with the lack of a few crucial ingredients: state-based incentives, lab space, venture capital, qualified workers and a seminal event, such as a big IPO or licensing deal.

Now state and local leaders are marshaling their forces to try to nurture the industry and catch some of the headwinds from OHSU’s $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge, which will attract more top scientific brainpower to Portland.

“It’s important to have conversations about how to capitalize on that investment and translate it into more thriving businesses in the state,” said Vince Porter, Gov. Kate Brown’s policy adviser for jobs and the economy.

The governor recently announced a modest grant program that could benefit biotech companies. And Oregon Bioscience Association Executive Director Dennis McNannay is spearheading a task force to create a biosciences hub in the Central Eastside Industrial District, near OMSI and just across the Tilikum Crossing from OHSU’s Collaborative Life Sciences Building.

UbiVac, a Providence Cancer Center spinoff, nearly fled Portland for California, but was able to secure improved lab space in the region after local and state leaders got involved.

“There’s a bigger momentum developing and we need to make sure we put in the infrastructure, ecosystems and conditions to keep companies here,” McNannay said.

Time will tell if that momentum leads to bigger things, or if we lead off a story in 2020 with, “Oregon’s sleepy biotechnology industry is finally showing signs of life.”

Elizabeth Hayes
Staff Reporter
Portland Business Journal
Feb 25, 2016

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