- Texas biotech is finally starting to catch fire
- Biomanufacturing is an area ripe for investment and job opportunities in Texas
- Good science is the foundation but entrepreneurs and clinical development teams can make a company
- North Texas’ central location is an advantage for cold supply chain
- Texas has seen a 33% increase in biotech jobs over the last 10 years
Last week I joined Kent Wakeford, FormBio’s co-CEO, at the 2022 iC Life Science Summit hosted by BioNTX, the North Texas Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) chapter. I’ve been involved with this group and its predecessor since 1999 and boy have I seen some magnificent advances in the biotech industry in North Texas. Lots of great content to share from the event.
The event kicked off with a panel discussing the state of biotech in Texas and included comments by the CEO of Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), Wayne Roberts, and Victoria Ford, President and CEO for Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute (THBI), the state level BIO partner. In large part due to CPRIT and the state’s $6B investment in oncology research, prevention and commercialization, Texas has seen a 33% increase in biotech jobs over the last 10 years while Boston has seen a net decline in those same jobs! For the country as a whole, entirely one half of the population growth for the US has been in Texas. Hopefully we’ll learn soon if Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) will be headquartered in Texas. We’re a long shot but the statewide team put together a compelling application. I mean, I knew people were flocking to our state but I didn’t appreciate just how many. Obviously, Texas is booming in biotech and more!
Digging into the CPRIT effect, CPRIT has recruited 281 cancer researchers to the state to complement the contingent already here (and many of those researchers have landed at our local universities, UT Southwestern Medical Center and UT Dallas). Eight North Texas companies have been awarded almost $60M in CPRIT commercialization awards with additional follow-on funding of $55.4M. But the macro environment is pressuring valuations so companies need to be prepared to ride out this economy and be thoughtful in deploying those dollars toward creating value as efficiently as possible.
Next up was a panel covering financing in today’s challenging times with a number of folks including Matthew Head, CFO for OncoNano, a University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) startup taking advantage of the tumor microenvironment to deliver imaging agents and therapeutics directly to the tumor. They’ve raised over $100M in venture financing. Key takeaways from the panel were that the science has to be valid but the plan to take it through clinical development has to be well thought out and complete. Those two together make a compelling story that investors will respond to.
Other sessions on Thursday focused on developing the right talent, health equity, how to navigate today’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the future of wet lab space in North Texas and some fascinating info on the cold chain capacity at Dallas/Fortworth International Airport (DFW). $34.1B a year worth of vaccines are lost due to inappropriate cold chain supply chain and that number is even more important as we emerge from a global pandemic. DFW has invested heavily in the infrastructure for cold chain so another benefit to the North Texas region is a well developed process for transporting next generation cell and gene therapies, mRNA vaccines, or other advanced biologics globally.
Friday’s program included a well attended panel with CPRIT and other types of funders to discuss the various strategies to get financing for a startup. Lots of key information was shared about using non-dilutive financing like product development awards from CPRIT or federal agencies. CPRIT has about $80M in commercialization grants set aside each year and last year was the first time they deployed the entire amount. Angel investors are great for the earliest proof of concept studies but they are unlikely to be interested if the road to an exit is long and expensive. The IPO window is still closed and when it opens there will be a line around the block of companies ready to go public. Start getting ready now so you can take advantage when it does open.
For the first time, the event included a Tech Transfer Office Showcase allowing the various universities in the region to compete for a spot in TechFortWorth’s entrepreneurial program. The UTA professor, Dr. Venu Varanasi, who has developed a clever way to use 3D printing and nanoparticles to facilitate bone and muscle growth across large areas was the clear winner.
The meeting wrapped up shortly after with attendance about double of last year’s. Key points that emerged from the conference: Texas biotech is finally starting to catch fire; biomanufacturing is an area ripe for investment and job opportunities in Texas; good science is the foundation but entrepreneurs and clinical development teams can make a company; and North Texas’ central location is an advantage for cold chain.
Things are happening in North Texas and FormBio can’t wait to be part of it!