Fort Worth's life sciences sector is alive and well, part of a thriving industry Metroplex that includes 450 biomedical companies and some 1,100 research, development and testing laboratories.
Among the most recognizable names calling Fort Worth home is Alcon, the world's largest, most profitable and specialized eye-care company. Alcon, whose majority owner is pharmaceutical giant Novartis, was founded in Fort Worth by two pharmacists in 1945.
Today, the company has revenue of more than $6.5 billion and sells its surgical, pharmaceutical and consumer eye-care products in more than 180 countries. The company's Fort Worth presence includes the largest research and development lab of its kind, sizable manufacturing facilities and headquarters for its major global operations. With nearly 3,200 employees, it is not only the region's largest life sciences companies, but also one of its largest employers.
In 2009, global dermatological pharmaceutical giant Galderma, a joint venture between French-based L'Oreal and Swiss-based Nestle, opened a 50,000-square-foot administrative office and in-house training facility adjacent to its North American headquarters in Fort Worth. The company also has a 70,000-square-foot distribution facility at its Fort Worth campus.
Fort Worth-based Healthpoint Ltd. specializes in developing technologies for the prevention and treatment of acute, chronic and burn-related wounds. In 2006, Healthpoint opened an 80,000-square-foot research facility in Fort Worth that includes state-of-the-art laboratories. The company's Wound Institute promotes accredited industry education to health practitioners through such high-tech methods as animation, interactive cases and streaming video. The company, an affiliate of DFB Pharmaceuticals Inc., has branched into consumer products with its Outlast line of hand sanitizers that are designed to provide up to six hours of germ protection.
Fort Worth Attracts Startups
The region also attracts some of the nation's most promising life science startups, including ZS Pharma Inc. The privately held specialty pharmaceutical company relocated to Fort Worth from Indiana in 2010.
"The state of Texas has developed a very nice infrastructure to support bio-development," says Dr. Alvaro Guillem, president and chief executive officer of ZS Pharma.
TECH Fort Worth
A key factor in ZS Pharma's decision to relocate was TECH Fort Worth, a nonprofit business incubator that assists entrepreneurs through its business accelerator programs. In 2009, TECH Fort Worth boasted an economic impact of more than $12 million.
"Most of our clients are people who've been very successful in their careers, but have never started a business from scratch before, which is what we're good at," says Darlene Ryan, executive director of TECH Fort Worth. "It's often the little things in the beginning, but then we help them get funding, introduce them to investors and assist with presentation development."
With guidance from TECH Fort Worth, ZS Pharma secured a $2 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. In its five-year history, the fund has invested $159 million in 113 early stage companies and $161 million in grant-matching and research funds to Texas universities. Additional industry funding comes through the Houston-based Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. The state program has issued $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs.
BioDFW Promotes Regional Growth
Fort Worth companies also gain support through BioDFW, a regional life sciences alliance. Dedicated to the growth and financial prosperity of North Texas' life sciences industry, BioDFW includes representation from government and industry leaders, universities and support organizations.
"One of the concerns established companies sometimes have is that they'll be the only company of their type, which is just not true," says Keith Brown, executive director of BioDFW. "We have a number of established companies with international presence, thanks to the quality research, medical school programs and entrepreneurial opportunities in north Texas."
University of North Texas Health Science Center
Anchoring research and development efforts in Fort Worth is the University of North Texas Health Science Center. The organization generated $43 million in research grants annually and is rooted in Fort Worth's bioscience community through partnerships with health-care providers and biomedical companies. Faculty also provide community care through UNT Health, the largest multispecialty group practice in Tarrant County.
UNT Health Science Center's facilities include the $75-million, 100,000-square-foot Center for BioHealth located in the heart of Fort Worth’s cultural district. The facility includes research and drug development laboratories where leading-edge research is taking place in such areas as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, environmental and occupational health, epidemiology and bioterrorism prevention.
"We have partnerships with every significantly sized Fort Worth research company," says Dr. Scott Ransom, president of UNT Health Science Center. "We have an enormous impact on developing companies as well, which provides an economic base for commercial efforts."
The UNT Health Science Center includes the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Public Health and School of Health Professions. In 2014, UNT Health Science Center will launch an MD program that will boost enrollment to 2,300 and help address a need for more physicians across the state. A consortium of health-care, business and civic organizations have pledged $25 million to cover the costs of starting the MD program.