The Texas biotech industry is comprised of several sector hubs, one of which is the city of Austin. Known for its innovative biopharmaceutical influencers and promising start-ups, the city recently hosted the official relaunch of its Austin BioBash, a key networking event for members of the Austin/Central Texas life sciences and biotech community. BioNews Texas attended and covered this year’s event, and took note of the wide range of top influencers who are working to further elevate Austin’s profile as a leading national biotech hub.
The relaunch of the BioBash saw a reworking of their mission statement this year: ”Our vision is a vibrant and prosperous life sciences industry in Austin and central Texas where companies expand and flourish, start-ups germinate and grow, and entrepreneurs are inspired and empowered. Everyone is welcome, networking and collaborations will be encouraged and facilitated, and academia and industry are given a forum to successfully interact and partner.” To that end, the organization drew upon an impressive line-up of featured speakers, which included Dr. Matt Winkler, founder of Ambion, Asuragen and Mirna Therapeutics. Dr. Winkler brought an interesting perspective to the event by presenting a historical overview of his experiences as an innovator in the Austin biotech community, beginning with the founding of Ambion. Because Winkler and Ambion have played such a critical role in further establishing Austin as an international player in the biotech sphere, his talk provided a useful framework for discussing the past, present, and future of the city’s growth in biotech and the life sciences.
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Dr. Winkler was not the only Ambion alum involved in the BioBash event. Also part of the organization’s BioBash leadership is Bruce Leander, the former President of Ambion, and John Burns, PhD.
Dr. Burns, who serves as President & General Counsel for BioAustin, boasts 30 years of life science experience, and holds a uniquely diverse education in both medicine and law, having received his BS and MS Microbiology, and PhD Virology & Epidemiology from Baylor College of Medicine, as well as his JD from UC Davis. Similarly, Bruce Leander, the Founder of BioAustin and a current Board Member, has 33 years of life sciences experience, with an equally diverse education, having earned his BS and MS in Zoology and Neurophysiology from Texas Tech; as well as his MBA.
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Other business stakeholders in the Austin biotech community spoke at the event as well, such as Marvin Dyke of Thermo Fisher, which anticipates purchasing Life Technologies in early 2014, after signing a definitive agreement to acquire the company for $76.00 in cash per fully diluted common share, or approximately $13.6 billion. Mr. Dyke gave an insightful talk on Thermo Fisher, and why he thought Austin was an obvious choice to do business in the life sciences sector.
Austin’s academic and educational institutions were also well represented at this year’s BioBash as well. Dr. Andy Ellington of UT Austin gave an overview of the work being done in his lab, which provided an exciting glimpse into how Austin has the infrastructure needed to increase its commercialized biotech output from the lab to the consumer. Additionally, Dr. Linnea Fletcher of Austin Community College offered an eye-opening presentation on the landmark work that her organization is doing to offer a comprehensive biotech training program at the community college level. The program, which focuses heavily on a practical, hands-on approach to preparing students for a biotech career, is offering a highly accessible educational option for young students who can take their biotech education from ACC and parlay it into higher, continuing education for more specialized degrees.
David Foster, Ph.D. an intellectual property attorney specializing in biotechnology and partner with Roberts Foster, LLP, was in attendance from Dallas and commented:
“It was incredibly exciting to see so many people from different geographical areas converge in Austin to talk about the biotechnology industry in Texas. Those in attendance were treated to far more than a fantastic networking opportunity. The event offered talks on the history of the industry in the state and a challenge to the audience to aggressively move the industry forward in the future. It is clear that the industry is gaining traction in Texas and the Austin area promises to be a major contributor. “
In order for a biotech hub to grow, it has to have a sense of its assets and needs, and then work together to grow their presence, not as competitors, but as partners in raising the awareness and profile of what the sector has to offer. This year’s BioAustin event went a long way to help identify and acknowledge Austin’s impressive educational, research, and commercial assets, and lay a new framework for an impressive future for the city.