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By Lori Kersey

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told the audience at a biosciences conference in downtown Charleston Wednesday afternoon that "we are quickly coming to a time" when biotechnology can be considered a core West Virginia industry.

The Second Annual West Virginia Bioscience Summit brought together representatives from the industry's private companies, university researchers and bioscience suppliers and backers, as well as policy and opinion leaders.

Biotechnology involves the use of living organisms to help improve medical treatments, fuels, crops and more. 

By Pam Kasey

MORGANTOWN - For a driver cruising down Chestnut Ridge Road in Morgantown, the view of Mylan Pharmaceuticals' campus gives no sense of the immensity of the operation.

Many residents probably aren't aware that it's the largest manufacturing facility of one of the top drug-makers in the world.

Similarly, numbers such as "about 3,000 employed in Morgantown" give no sense of the company's reach into the state's economy.

The Bioscience Association of West Virginia (BioWV), with sponsorship from BIO, PhRMA, Amgen and TechConnectWV, will hold the 2nd Annual West Virginia Biosciences Summit on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, from Noon - 7:00 p.m., at the Marriott Hotel in Charleston, West Virginia.

This event will highlight the role and impact of the bioscience industry in West Virginia and the region, showcase research and commercialization efforts taking place at West Virginia universities and private companies, and discuss policies and programs to help nurture the industry.

HUNTINGTON -- Research development is not only important for patients, but for the economy.

Along with the discovery of medicines that can treat a variety of ailments, research provides good jobs, helps diversify the state's economy and locally has led to spinoff companies and capital improvement projects.

Earlier this week, representatives from local research organizations had a chance to talk with policy-makers and potential investors about what they're accomplishing in the community and in the state of West Virignia.

An event titled "Research in Your Backyard" took place Tuesday at Vandalia Research in Huntington. It highlighted the work done at Vandalia -- founded by two Marshall University students and two professors in 2004 -- as well as John Maher, Marshall's vice president for Research, and Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for PhRMA. Trewhitt spoke on the some of the findings in a recent report about the impact of clinical trials being done in West Virginia.

The event was organized with the help of the Bioscience Association of West Virginia to shed some light on what's being accomplished.

"From where Marshall has come, it has made significant strides over the past five or six years," Maher said.

In fiscal year 2011, $42 million had been garnered for research at Marshall, mostly from federal grants, but also state and private grants, he said. Among the types of research at Marshall are biotechnology, biomedicine, forensics, water resources and transportation research.

One example of current research at Marshall is a project to determine how omega 3 fatty acids consumed by mothers affect their children's risk of cancer. Marshall researchers also are working on nanotechnology used for diagnostic devices for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, infant care, as well as air and water quality. Cystic fibrosis is another area of research, as well as musculoskeletal and ligament injuries.

Marshall's $42 million in awards for research help fund 250 jobs, Maher said. It also helps with the purchase of about $8 million in supplies needed for research, much of which are purchased locally. It also has led to patents and spinout companies.

Capital improvements have gone hand in hand with the growth in research as well, he said. At Marshall, that has included the Robert C. Byrd Biosciences Center, the Weisberg Engineering Laboratories facility and a planned $50 million building that will be an applied engineering complex and biotechnology incubator.

Under a grant program, Marshall also is partnering with the University of Kentucky on a Clinical Transitional Science Award. Transitional research focuses on making sure that discoveries are translated into patient outcomes.

Tuesday's event was hosted by a research spinout company Vandalia Research, now housed in the American Red Cross building on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Huntington.

The company makes mass quantities of DNA sequences that can be used in vaccines, diagnostics, gene therapy, nanotechnology and bio-agriculture, said Derek Gregg, the company's CEO. It also makes forensic science kits to be used in high schools throughout the world, a new division of the company that has helped it financially.

A recent project at Vandalia is a $1.04 million contract with the federal government to work on making a pandemic infuenza vaccine, Gregg said.

Marshall's and Vandalia's research are among a robust picture statewide, Trewhitt said.

"There is a strong research infrastructure in this state," he said. "There are 500 clinical trials of new medicines going on in West Virginia, and that's a lot."

Two hundred of those target the nation's most debilitating diseases -- asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and stroke. And West Virginians suffering from a variety of maladies have access to participating in these trials, which could lead to cures, he said.

The Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center at Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary's Medical Center are among the local hospitals involved in clinical tests of treatments. CAMC is another, as well as some medical institutions in Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling.

A study by Archstone Consulting found that the industry supported nearly 12,600 West Virginia jobs in 2008 and was responsible for providing nearly $3.1 billion in products and services.

Biopharmaceutical jobs include life science researchers, management executives, office and administrative support workers, production workers, engineers, architects, computer and math experts and sales reps.

In 2008, these workers were paid an estimated $124.1 million, leading to more than $4 million in state taxes and more than $25 million in federal taxes, the report said.

In 2008, biopharmaceutical research firms also invested $144.8 million in research and development in the state.

West Virginia Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, attended the event and pointed out that this type of information might be interesting to members of the general public who see nothing but the cost of their prescriptions.

Developing new pharmaceuticals is a costly process, usually taking 10 to 15 years and a $1.2 billion investment per drug, Trewhitt said. And only one in five actually hits the market, he said.

He said there are assistance programs for those who have trouble affording their prescriptions. More information about applying for assistance -- which he said takes only 15 minutes -- can be found online at www.pparx.orgor by calling 888-477-2669.

For the first time, the Bioscience Association of West Virginia (BioWV) and Women In Bio (WIB) will partner with Mid-Atlantic Bio for the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Bio Conference taking place October 27-29 at the North Bethesda Marriott Convention Center in Bethesda, Md.

As 2010 strategic partners, BioWV and WIB will join event hosts the Tech Council of Maryland/MdBio (TCM/MdBio), the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA), and the Virginia Biotechnology Association (VaBIO) to create an even stronger platform for the combined communities of their industry constituents to come together at this year’s conference. Both BioWVA and WIB serve different segments of the expanding biotechnology industry, each important in the industry ecosystem. It is anticipated that both organizations will have strong representation from their respective membership groups at this year’s conference.

PO BOX 20065 | Charleston, WV 25362 | (304) 546-5500