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Life Sciences Sector Fueling Biomedical Breakthroughs in Maine

Discover how Maine is building on its rich legacy of life sciences innovation and expertise to deepen its impact in biomedicine, medical devices, diagnostic tools and pharmaceuticals.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on September 25, 2015

Maine is building on a legacy of life sciences innovation, deepening its impact in biomedicine and diagnostics, while nurturing growth in areas such as medical devices and pharmaceuticals.
The numbers are impressive – Maine exported more than $102 million in life sciences products in 2013 – and the trajectory continues upward. The state is home to six renowned biomedical research institutions, along with plentiful funding and support.
Leading the Way
Pacesetters include two stalwarts based in Bar Harbor: The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), where a new, $10 million genomics and computational biology center will help researchers diagnose and treat life-threatening diseases by using patient DNA; and the Mount Desert Island (MDI) Biological Laboratory, which is partnering with the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute to boost research and education for regenerative medicine.
“World scientific demand for precision biomedical analysis is very strong and growing,” says LuAnn Ballesteros, director of government relations for the Jackson Laboratory. “Detecting and monitoring subtle physiological and anatomical changes in experimental animals is a crucial step in genomic discovery for solutions to human disease.”
Maine is home to a growing crop of high-growth life sciences firms developing leading-edge medical technologies and devices. With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), RockStep Solutions is creating next-generation mobile-lab management software in Bar Harbor for preclinical research. Boothbay-based Biovation, which specializes in non-woven fiber and specialized chemistry designs, is expanding into infection and pathogen control with a blood-pressure cuff that protects against hospital-acquired infections.
These firms benefit from collaborative relationships with Maine’s top-tier research centers as well as its colleges and universities. Startups can also find support for innovation through resources such as the Maine Technology Institute, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the Maine Venture Fund.
Discover, Detect and Diagnose
Maine’s innovators in the diagnostics field include Alere, whose products attack infectious diseases, and Portland-based EnviroLogix, which is test-marketing a product that detects genetically modified organisms in soy milk.
Alere has been awarded a contract through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop a next-generation, low-cost platform to fight pandemic influenza.
“Alere is excited to be part of Maine’s life sciences industry and to develop and manufacture rapid-diagnostic tests that enable clinicians to detect and treat patients quickly and accurately, helping to ensure better outcomes,” says Andrew Wilkinson, manager of Alere’s Scarborough manufacturing facility.
“Maine’s workforce is well-educated, highly motivated, and has a work ethic second to none,” he says. “It’s because of its people and quality of life that this industry will continue to grow in Maine.”
Luring the Best
As Maine’s bioscience industry continues to boom, its leaders are attracting highly skilled cohorts to join them. Before joining MDI Biological Laboratory as director, Kevin Strange worked at such renowned medical centers as Harvard and Vanderbilt, but “the quality of the science and the people doing it in Maine is among the highest I’ve seen anywhere,” Strange says.
Early in his MDI tenure, “I worried that recruiting qualified scientists to an island off the coast of Downeast Maine would be a huge challenge,” Strange says, referring to the laboratory’s remote location. “That has proven not to be the case. Over the past five years, we have recruited five outstanding new faculty members, and the quality of the applicants has been impressive.
“Not only is Maine a fantastic place to live, it’s a terrific place to do science,” he says.

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