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Editorial: Bioscience group should bolster state economy

Oct. 21, 2009 @ 12:00 AM

Doctors, bankers, home builders, manufacturers, accountants, small businesses. All have statewide associations in West Virginia to further their professions and their interests.

Now comes another group that reflects a transition to new economic opportunities in the state. It's the Bioscience Association of West Virginia, which made its existence known in a press conference with Gov. Joe Manchin in Charleston this week.

Among its purposes are to promote the bioscience industry in West Virginia and expand the knowledge and expertise of West Virginia's businesses concerning the life sciences. It also will represent the interests of the state's bioscience industry to government officials. Bioscience comprises biotechnology, life sciences and biomedical research.

From the governor's perspective, the group will play a key role in economic development in the state, and in the types of fields that hold promise for economic stability for the future.

The Huntington area will play a vital role in the new group. Chair of the association's board of directors is Derek Gregg, chief operating officer of Vandalia Research Inc. Vandalia was one of the first companies to emerge from Marshall University's efforts to turn biotechnology research into commercial enterprises. It started with a couple of undergraduate students, and now the company provides custom DNA sequences for a variety of applications, including DNA vaccines.

Also on the board of Bioscience Association of West Virginia are John Maher, vice president for research at Marshall, and Jennifer Kmiec, associate vice president for economic development at Marshall University Research Corporation. The corporation supports researchers at the university by providing pre- and post-award sponsored research services.

The group's headquarters will be in Vandalia Research's offices in downtown Huntington.

West Virginia University also is represented on the board, as is a spinoff bioscience company from there, Protea Biosciences.

The state already has invested some money in promoting research at West Virginia's two universities, and is in the process of partnering with them to spend much more.

A Bucks for Jobs program passed by the Legislature in 2008 will allocate $35 million to WVU and $15 million to Marshall to promote research at the two institutions, provided both schools can match the funds with private donations within five years.

If that investment is successful, the payoffs can be tremendous. Marshall University's Center for Business and Economic Research projects that Marshall's participation alone in Bucks for Jobs could generate 1,100 jobs and $25 million in tax revenue during the first 10 years. The state could see 3,400 jobs and $138 million in taxes during the second decade.

Of course, there is a long way to go before those kinds of results will be seen. But the formation of this new group aimed at furthering the bioscience industry can provide yet another welcome push in that direction.

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