Memphis, TN Builds Biomedical Reputation

Memphis is growing in stature as a biotech center

On Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 12:02
Tennessee Health Care

Memphis already enjoys a much-deserved reputation as a hub for medical prosthetic devices and related research, but it’s also growing in stature as a biotech center.

From small start-ups to large-scale investment in facilities and research, the Bluff City is luring scientists from around the globe. And the products coming out of the lab are as varied as the facilities themselves.

A veterinary vaccine that would protect humans from Lyme disease carried by wildlife is being developed by Biopeptides Corp.

arGentis Pharmaceuticals LLC is raising upward of $12 million to bring its dry-eye therapy product and related research through the clinical trial phase.

The company is readying its first two therapies for clinical trials in preparation for bringing the product to the market. It also has created a pipeline of other eye-related products and research areas, says Tom Davis, president and CEO, who co-founded the company in 2005.

“We are here with the Southern College of Optometry, the only optometry school with a developed scleroderma treatment, and University of Tennessee Health Science Center, which is doing some phenomenal research,” Davis says. “We have a pharmacy school down the street, as well as St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. We are sitting in the nexus of a fairly robust scientific research community, which I didn’t realize when we began the company.”

The $22 million Regional Biocontainment Laboratory is under construction at the UT-Baptist Research Park, a development that eventually will include 1.2 million to 1.5 million square feet of lab and research space. The UT Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacy building also is under construction.

Some 400,000 square feet of research space will be added to the region over the next two years, with an estimated 1.4 million square feet available by 2017.

The InMotion Musculoskeletal Institute in Memphis is an independent orthopaedic research laboratory that is focused on research, innovation, and entrepreneurship for discoveries to treat musculoskeletal disease and injuries.

Research Assets Bolster Tennessee Biotech

Dr. Steven Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, says the foundation splits its work into four areas: program leadership, developing infrastructure, expanding the workforce and driving entrepreneurship.

In addition to spearheading development of the UT-Baptist Research Park, the foundation also has created the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, which prepares high-school students for the bioscience workforce. Among its other endeavors are Innova, an early-stage investment organization; TECworks, an entrepreneurship development organization focusing on tech entrepreneurship and commercializing; and the AgBioworks initiative, which seeks to apply industrial biotechnology to the region’s crop and forest biomass resources.

Memphis’ growth in biotech enterprise bolsters the health-care business apparatus of Tennessee, a recognized leader in hospital administration, health-care entrepreneurship, research and other innovation.

Like Memphis, Nashville’s health-care industry has a long research legacy aided in part by strong university input and state government programs that bring in new players, says Dr. Ken Holroyd, assistant vice chancellor for research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who also serves on the Tennessee Strategic Research Board.

“There have been a lot of interesting things going on across the state in health research,” Holroyd says. “There’s a lot of opportunity for venture capital and angel investors and others interested in working with a top-flight medical research community to come here.”