BIO Alabama focusing on future of bioscience industry in state

BIO Alabama focusing on future of bioscience industry in state
Panel members at the BIO Alabama 2022 Conference discuss the innovation economy in Alabama. (contributed)

While the BIO Alabama Conference this week celebrated the present – being back together after a six-year absence due in part to the pandemic – the focus was very much on the future and the industry’s participation in Alabama’s innovation economy.

“There is just so much excitement and so much energy to interact and collaborate,” said Rachel Lane, CEO of BIO Alabama.

The conference, titled “Building Alabama’s Biohorizons,” took at look at where the industry stands today and where it wants to build toward at a time when Alabama is as focused as ever on innovation.

Speakers at the conference, held at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook April 25-26, took a deep dive into building a sustainable bioscience ecosystem, new trends in the industry and addressing needs like workforce and business climate. Melinda Richter, global head of Innovation at Johnson & Johnson JLABS, delivered the keynote.

BIO Alabama 2022 Conference looks to the future of the bioscience industry in the state from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

More than 1,000 entities work in the biosciences industry in Alabama with a focus on everything from biomedical products to agriculture feed and doing everything from manufacturing and distribution to research and development.

Nearly 12,000 Alabamians work in the industry and earn an annual average wage approaching $70,000.

Lane said COVID-19 highlighted how engaged the Alabama bioscience industry is at a global level and marked the real momentum in the industry in the state today.

“Alabama’s bioscience industry is at a really critical point. We’ve had some tremendous success with our COVID relief efforts over the last two years,” Lane said. “We have some phenomenal institutions that are receiving top-dollar funding for agricultural, environmental, biomedical research. Now it’s really time for us to build and we have to do that together. We have to come together to figure out what our strategy is going to be for the next couple of years, how we’re going to pool together our resources and really create a meaningful industry.”

Companies like SiO2 Materials Science in Auburn that produced vials for COVID-19 vaccines and Avanti Polar Lipids in Alabaster that provided lipids for the Pfizer vaccine have played key roles in battling the pandemic. Key research and trials have taken place at UAB, HudsonAlpha and Southern Research.

“This is the time to build,” Lane said. “We have a great foundation. We’ve had some great success with COVID relief efforts and some of our companies have made such tremendous contributions. But what we’re looking forward to is building. We have a lot of work to do and we can do it together, and if we do it strategically then we’re going to create something really meaningful.”

Adding to the timing is the work of the Alabama Innovation Commission and the establishment of the Alabama Innovation Corporation. While still in the formative stages and being staffed, the corporation will be a public-private entity that will be a key catalyst in growing the innovation economy in the state.

RELATED: Bio Alabama is poised to be a key player in state’s innovation economy

Lane said BIO Alabama will be a key player.

“The buzz around innovation – the Innovation Corporation being established is a really key part of that – because we see the state investing in innovation and seeing the opportunity and how important innovation is to the future of our state’s economy,” she said. “And BIO Alabama is an important part of that because we bring together the bioscience industry. Bioscience has tremendous potential to change not only today, but tomorrow.”

RELATED: What’s next for Alabama’s innovation economy?

But, she said, BIO Alabama has its own role to play in ensuring the industry is strong.

“There are a lot of different ways we need to look at how to grow the industry, but what it’s really going to take is us all coming together and having those conversations,” Lane said. “Whether it’s workforce, whether it’s business environment initiatives, we have to do it together so that we can form that strategy and know that we are addressing all of those key points that really matter to our stakeholders.”

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