New and Existing Strategies Bring Memphis Bioworks Closer to Main Goals

Memphis Bioworks Foundation has always had three clear goals for driving the bio-economy of Memphis – build the workforce, develop the infrastructure and drive entrepreneurship. Over the years, we have developed a number of strategies designed to help us reach each of those goals. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle, I am beginning to see the pieces fit together, providing a glimpse of the final picture as we work our way to a thriving bioscience industry in the region.

In this BioBiz column, I am going to provide an overview of some of the larger strategies we are undertaking and show how they fit into our overall goals, as well as discuss some new items that are in the works. This also is the first column featuring our new interactive comments section, so I would appreciate feedback from you, letting me know your thoughts on our current strategies and potential future strategies.

Recently, we announced the formation of INNOVA, an accelerator/seed fund that will bring together new technologies, entrepreneurs and funding. INNOVA will be important for Memphis because it will allow us to retain new businesses, rather than having entrepreneurs and new technologies leave the city in search of capital funds. It also will attract new funding, jobs and talent to the city, helping fulfill all three of our goals.

Earlier this year, construction began on the Regional Biocontainment Lab (RBL) located in the UT-Baptist Research Park. This is the first new building to be constructed in the park. Construction on the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Pharmacy will begin within a few weeks. The UT-Baptist Research Park is designed to be a state-of-the-art complex that will provide new jobs for local citizens and attract nationally renowned faculty and industry to the area.

The research park also is a major component of the Memphis Medical Center, a vital district that serves as the center for medical and bioscience research, development, and treatment in the Mid-South. Life-saving research is taking place at the University of Tennessee and area institutions, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Methodist University Hospital, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Soon, we will announce the arrival of BioworksPlace, which is both a virtual and physical location where professionals, students and job seekers in the bioscience fields can network, share ideas and information, exchange resumes, build relationships and search for jobs in a collaborative community. These professionals will be able to interact not only with “like-minded” individuals, but with employers who are seeking to hire talented, motivated employees.

Another idea that is brewing at Memphis Bioworks is the formation of an institute for infectious diseases research, structured similarly to InMotion Musculoskeletal Institute in that it connects research scientists, technology and entrepreneurs. Currently there are significant opportunities in the Memphis region to support, grow and develop technologies related to infectious diseases diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Infectious diseases research programs in the UTHSC Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics and Molecular Sciences, in addition to those at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center, are the second largest research sector in the community.

Many of these programs are directed by senior investigators with national and international reputations in the field of infectious diseases. (Dr. Gerald Byrne, UTHSC Molecular Sciences; Dr. Elaine Tuomanen and Dr. Robert Webster at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Dr. James Dale at UTHSC). This research talent and stream of intellectual property in our academic institutions, along with the new RBL at the UT-Baptist Research Park, the construction of an adjacent vivarium for preclinical development and testing, and the Innova accelerator/seed fund all provide the basis for a significant opportunity in this area.

This list of strategies is in no way comprehensive, but it does highlight some of the more recent programs underway or in the works at Memphis Bioworks Foundation. By taking a step back and looking at the big picture, we can see the overall bio-industry that is beginning to take shape in Memphis.

But our job is really only just beginning. There is a lot more work ahead for the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, as well as many more opportunities. I would like to hear from your perspective as an industry observer if there are certain things that stand out as being strategically important, whether it involves current strategies or future strategies.

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