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Greater Philadelphia’s Life Sciences Legacy Drives New Discoveries

With a life sciences history spanning nearly 200 years, the Greater Philadelphia region remains a focal point for development of medical and biotech breakthroughs.

By Kevin Litwin on January 29, 2014

Migraine sufferers may be able to get relief with a patch developed in Greater Philadelphia. People with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases could have more effective treatments based on discoveries made there.

These are just a few of the bioscience developments underway in the region. But that comes as no surprise.

Since the early 1800s, Greater Philadelphia has been the epicenter of research and discovery in the life sciences.

History of Innovation

Today, the region is home to internationally known pharmaceutical companies, leading-edge bioscience firms, device manufacturers and diagnostic companies that mesh with its world-class research universities, cadre of major health systems, teaching hospitals and medical schools, and deep roster of contract research organizations to form a fully integrated and synergistic industry.

The region’s life sciences hub includes the presence of 15 global pharmaceutical companies (11 with headquarters in the region), 1,200 firms overall and 270 contract research organizations. The region includes six medical schools, three pharmacy schools and four National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, providing major concentration of research assets.

Dr. Helen F. Giles-Gee, president of University of the Sciences, says the pharmaceutical industry essentially started in the area nearly two centuries ago with early pioneers such as Eli Lilly. As an educational institution devoted to the sciences, USciences prepares undergraduate and graduate students and supports science research and startups.

“You want to do business where the researchers are, and we have them here,” Giles-Gee says. “If you’re looking for workers who know a bit, who have a background in science and have done research when they were undergrads, we do that too.”

The university is a key part of the industry ecosystem that makes it an attractive location for life sciences, biotech and health-based businesses.

“The expertise we need is here in Greater Philadelphia, be it partners for venture capital or the intellectual property attorneys who understand patents,” Giles-Gee says. “When you think of clinical trials necessary for pharmaceuticals, you have the medical facilities that are pervasive throughout this region and clinical specialists that have received their education at least partially at the university.”

Culture of Growth

Innovations continue to develop in the region. For example, ​pharmaceutical company Nupathe Inc. has developed a patch to treat migraine headaches. The company located in the region for a variety of reasons that make doing business as well scientific research more productive.

“NuPathe chose to locate in the Greater Philadelphia region, as it is central to the East Coast, both in terms of dealing with regulatory agencies in Washington, D.C., and Wall Street in New York,” says Terri Sebree, company president.

The core of well-prepared employees makes the area attractive as well.

“We can draw from a talented pool of employees garnered from a strong stock of research universities located here in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” Sebree says. “Our current staff is a group of hugely qualified, highly educated professionals. As we look to recruit the best and brightest in the pharmaceutical industry, this location offers an attractive lifestyle to our potential employees and their families.”

In Ambler, Pa., Adam Dakin, CEO of Bioconnect Systems, says the regional system of economic incentives has helped his medical device company develop surgical implants and techniques that form precisely controlled vascular connections. The company recently raised $9 million in private investment.

“One advantage we do have is access to the economic incentive funds in the region that are motivated by economic development as much as a return on investment,” Dakin says. “Ben Franklin Technology Partners is a great way to get seed-stage funding, and Bio Advance is still investing in seed-stage medical technology. That’s a big plus to get some of that seed capital locally.”

QR Pharma is at the stage for clinical trials of its new treatments for neurological disorders. CEO Maria Maccecchini says Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Bio Advance, two seed-stage funding arms, help companies get off the ground. Now she’s searching for additional investment to take her company to the next level.

“We have great universities, and we have a lot of talent and lot of knowledge people available to us,” she says. “We need local venture capital to help us go after additional funding for further development.”

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