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Winston-Salem Offers Unique Resources for Life-Science Companies

By Jeremy Summers, NCBiotech Writer

Winston-Salem has a unique blend of resources and assets that make it a growing center for life-science companies and other industries driven by technology and innovation.

This growing infrastructure was the focus of an event held in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, which showcased the resources offered by Wake Forest University and established area companies.

The event was part of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce’s Tech Council Technology and Innovation Series. The ongoing series has four events each year, including their yearly Tech Briefing, which serves as an overview of the city’s emerging technologies.

The purpose of the meeting was to “educate the public on tech-related products that fuel the economy,” said Stephen Susalka, Ph.D., Tech Council co-chair.

It was appropriate, Susalka said, that the event took place at Wake Forest Biotech Place, which he referred to as a “hub of innovation” for the region.

Area companies benefit from abundant resources

Panelists highlighted the abundant advanced technology resources available to growing businesses in Winston-Salem.

Luke Burnett, Ph.D., chief science officer of KeraNetics, gave an entrepreneur’s perspective about some of the resources available to companies in Winston-Salem.

Winston-Salem-based KeraNetics specializes in converting purified keratin, the key structural material of the outer layer of the human body, as well as the main component of nails and hair, into a wide variety of medical products.

KeraNetics is a portfolio company of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which awarded the company a $150,000 Small Business Research Loan in 2010. Additionally, KeraNetics is participating in NCBiotech’s Industrial Fellowship Program, in which costs are shared for postdoc Erin Falco, Ph.D., to work two years as a scientist at the company and learn the ropes of industrial research.

The company was formed in 2008 as a spinout from Wake Forest University Health Sciences, with exclusive rights to commercialize some 20 university patents.

According to Burnett, most biotech funding is clustered in cities like Research Triangle Park, San Diego and other established centers for life-sciences innovation. This can make it difficult for companies in cities such as Winston-Salem to get funding. But, Burnett said, the growing access to resources offered by Wake Forest and other proven entities make the city a “growing hub of biotech innovation.”

Companies in Winston-Salem have “access to equipment and expertise,” Burnett said. “Science is a team sport,” he said, so it is important to leverage the unique assets and resources available to companies in the area.

City a growing hub of innovation

The event served to “reflect what’s going on at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the university and PTRP,” said Eric Tomlinson, D.Sc. Ph.D., president of Piedmont Triad Research Park (PTRP).

Wake Forest University will soon launch “Wake Forest Innovations,” an entity designed for “boosting the creation and commercialization” of innovation, according to Tomlinson.

The entity will invest in faculty and entrepreneurs to drive innovation and commercialization of new technologies and startups, Tomlinson said. The plan is to utilize Wake Forest’s substantial resources to support innovation outside the university.

This fits in with Tomlinson’s vision to brand the park and university as a worldwide leader of innovation in biotechnology and other tech-driven industries. Tomlinson says this plan will enliven the park as a center where people can “live, work and play.”

The park offers “world-class” facilities for biosciences that are a unique draw for both startups and more developed companies, Tomlinson said. By the end of 2014, Tomlinson expects there to be more than 2800 employees working in PTRP, with a payroll of nearly $160 million. The city has a “lot of energy, a lot of momentum for creative innovation,” said Tomlinson.

The “breadth and depth of talent” in the city is one of many resources that can help the region’s companies succeed, Tomlinson said.

Tom Clarkson, associate director of the Scientific Business Services of Wake Forest Innovations, explained how the entity will offer unique services to assist in bioscience product development.

The structured businesses of Wake Forest Innovations will include pre-clinical services and business development resources. These very expensive services can be cost-prohibitive for many young companies, which is why Wake Forest Innovations will help streamline the process of giving startups and other companies access to low-cost lab space and other resources offered by Wake Forest University. 

For example, if a startup company needed to perform pre-clinical testing but didn’t have a funding for a scanning electron microscope or another piece of expensive equipment, they could get access to this equipment at Wake Forest.

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