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Winston-Salem: A Leader in Regenerative Medicine

In addition to a thriving life sciences and health sector, this region is home to a growing innovation district that has become a model for other cities.

By Brittany Anas on December 17, 2021

Downtown Winston-Salem, NC
Eric Waters

At the end of the 20th century, Winston-Salem reinvented itself, focusing on innovation and shifting from manufacturing and textiles to technology and health sciences. Today, the region has positioned itself as a global leader in regenerative medicine and is home to a growing innovation district that other cities are looking to as a model.

In making this entrepreneurial leap, Winston-Salem successfully built a thriving life sciences and health sector that leverages assets such as Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, the region’s largest employer, Novant Health and the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Why Winston-Salem?

The region’s supply of talent, access to standout colleges and universities,
and a critical mass of bioscience innovation have made it the home for nearly 75 bioscience companies and a world leader in regenerative medicine.

Anchored by Wake Forest School of Medicine, the Innovation Quarter (iQ) is home to more than 170 companies, 1,800 degree-seeking students, five leading academic institutions, and apartments and greenways. It is an epicenter of creativity and collaboration that is taking innovation, especially in the medical industry, to the next level.

Here’s a look at the innovative research that’s happening in the field of regenerative medicine in Winston-Salem, and how the area is taking a global lead in life sciences.

RegeneratOR Test Bed Creates an Economic Engine

The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is recognized as an international leader in translating scientific discovery into clinical therapies, pioneering many of the world’s “firsts,” including the first lab-grown organ, which was engineered bladder tissue that was successfully implanted in patients.

More than 400 people at the institute are successfully engineering replacement tissues and organs. Now, helping the region and state further advance in this field is the RegeneratOR Test Bed, a large lab that opened in 2021 in the iQ through a partnership between the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and RegenMed Development Organization (ReMDO), a nonprofit organization that is headquartered in Winston-Salem.

What’s especially novel about this lab is its ability to accelerate the growth of startups and companies by providing access to millions of dollars of biomanufacturing equipment on-site. This allows companies to develop new therapies, eliminating the need to send prototypes overseas for development, says Anthony Atala, MD, director of WFIRM. Companies are working on everything from 3D printing to cell and tissue therapies.

Companies will also have access to industry expertise and talent to support this novel prototyping and product development. The RegeneratOR Test Bed is one of three focused areas to operate through ReMDO’s RegeneratOR, which is making technologies more affordable and speeding up the translation to clinical practice.

Other focus areas include a business incubator as well as a workforce development initiative that connects a network of colleges, university programs and technical schools with biomanufacturing staff, engineers and research leaders to train highly skilled manufacturing technicians and researchers.

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Innovation Quarter

Innovation Quarter Enters Its Next Phase

Around the early 2000s, plans for the iQ were hatched. Since then, the district has grown to approximately 1.9 million square feet of mixed-use space. It’s home to health care labs, startups, academic institutions and apartments. Shuttered tobacco plants now house businesses that range from block chain startups and data analytics companies to a gourmet chocolate and craft cocktail outpost.

The iQ brings people together from various backgrounds to learn, work and collaborate, which all gives way to the organic transfer of ideas and cooperation and creates a knowledge community thrumming with innovation. “The idea is to bring together a breadth of different kinds of companies, ideas and people,” says Graydon Pleasants, head of real estate development at the iQ.

Not Just Business at the iQ

The master plan would also bring an additional 450 residential units
and 30,000 square feet for ground-level activation space,
which would include retail shops and restaurants.

Now, the iQ is ready for its next chapter – a second major phase of development. The planned 28-acre site for Phase II is anticipated to allow for an additional 1 million square feet of clinical, lab and office space.

This next phase of development is planned to have the same mixed-use atmosphere that allowed the iQ to gain the distinction of “Best Practice for Creating Intenerated Places” by The Global Institute on Innovation Districts in 2020.

To put it another way? In addition to the groundbreaking research and innovation that happens in the district, there’s also plenty of ways to unwind, from yoga sessions to karaoke contests to local bands at breweries and headliners at festivals in Bailey Park.

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