NCBiotech: Looking back on 40 years of growing NC life sciences

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is turning 40 years old. NCBiotech was founded in 1984, the first organization of its kind, as a catalyst for technology-based economic development in life sciences.  

As we celebrate this important milestone, it is important to take stock of where we have been, how far we have come as a life sciences hub, and where we are headed next. 

While NCBiotech and our programs have evolved a great deal over the years to meet the needs of industry, NCBiotech’s mission of growing the life sciences across North Carolina remains steadfast.  

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the vision to form NCBiotech 40 years ago and to those who have continued funding us over the years so that we can achieve our vision of North Carolina: A global life sciences leader.  

I would like to offer my thanks to our partners and our life sciences ecosystem for the key role they have played in getting North Carolina to be a robust life sciences hub.

Impact of North Carolina Life Sciences

North Carolina has grown from about five life sciences companies in 1984 to 830 today, employing 75,000 workers and generating $88.3 billion in statewide economic activity.  

The life sciences sector generates $2.4 billion in combined state and local government revenue and provides well-paying careers, with an average annual wage of $112,000, nearly double that for North Carolina’s overall private sector workforce.  

North Carolina continues to be strong in biomanufacturing, contract research and testing, ag tech, research and development, and more.  

Thermo Fisher Scientific cGMP manufacturing environment
Credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

We are all aware of the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also know that life sciences and North Carolina played a vital role in helping the world address this challenge.  

North Carolina companies contributed to developing, manufacturing and packaging vaccines, expediting the delivery of vital testing kits, producing personal protective clothing and equipment, and the list goes on.  

In fact, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy praised North Carolina for its response and highlighted our state as an example of best practices to fight future pandemics.  

North Carolina’s role in fighting COVID highlights the strength, breadth, connectivity and responsiveness of our life sciences community. We should all be proud of our community’s response, which was built on partnerships and collaboration.  

Another important biotechnology milestone in our recent past has been the advances in gene and cell therapy. This technology has been transformational for patients suffering from debilitating genetic diseases. It has dramatically improved their quality of life and potentially provides curative benefits.  

North Carolina has been at the heart of this transformation with 51 gene and cell therapy companies in our state. North Carolina has many brilliant scientists. But one scientist has been at the forefront of breakthrough science, making significant contributions in gene and cell therapy.  

Dr. Jude Samulski’s research has transformed the field of genetic medicine giving rise to adeno associated virus (AAV) gene therapies and having a profound impact on gene therapy with numerous spinout companies resulting.  

NCBiotech Programs Spur Innovation

Regarding innovation, during FY2023, NCBiotech deployed $8.28M in grants and loans to seed innovation statewide.  

As evidence of the strong impact of our funding, since 1984, for every $1 invested in grants, NCBiotech grant recipients have subsequently attracted an additional $73 of follow-on funding, totaling more than $4.9B.  

Similarly, for every $1 in loans, NCBiotech loan portfolio companies have subsequently raised an additional $140 in other sources of funding, totaling $7.8B.  

Another program that supports innovation statewide is called the NCBiotech Venture Challenge. This pitch competition provides opportunities for startups outside of the Research Triangle Park to compete for funding, mentoring and resources to advance their businesses and make progress towards commercialization.  

Since 2020, there have been 101 company expansion and recruitment announcements totaling $11.37B invested and 11,866 jobs announced. These announcements cover a broad cross section of life sciences subsectors. But our growth in biomanufacturing is noteworthy.  

In Dec. 2023, JLL recognized Raleigh-Durham as the #1 biomanufacturing market in the U.S., highlighting our strong presence of contract manufacturing organizations, research institutions, talent and industry collaborations.  

North Carolina has always been progressive and forward thinking when it comes to workforce development. Our state is fortunate to have an extensive training infrastructure, including our three top-tier research universities, 58 community colleges, the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) at North Carolina State University, Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE), and more.

North Carolina's Spirit of Collaboration

Collaboration has been a key differentiator for North Carolina life sciences. A notable example of collaboration is a coalition, including community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and other industry partners, having won a $25M award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Building Back Better Regional Challenge.  

The Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing award is increasing awareness of and access to training and job opportunities across the state, among underserved populations in rural, distressed regions in North Carolina.  

We are grateful to our industry partners that have supported Accelerate NC, including Novo Nordisk, Amgen, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Catalent, Thermo Fisher Scientific and many more.    

I am proud of the role that NCBiotech has played in helping shape the trajectory of life sciences growth in our state. Our team is optimistic for 2024 and the many opportunities that lie ahead.  

Each member of our life sciences ecosystem plays a role in building a better tomorrow. Let us continue to collaborate and innovate to have North Carolina at the forefront of solving important global challenges.

Stay tuned for details on how we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary in the coming months. I look forward to engaging with you and commemorating our collective accomplishments.  

Explore North Carolina's rich history in life sciences. Visit our 40th anniversary page.

Doug Edgeton, President and CEO, NCBiotech
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