By the end of June, the remaining scientists of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation working at the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park are expected to have vacated their laboratories and offices there. But their departure is a sign of growth in the bioscience sector, observers say.
About 25 employees four months ago began moving from the park at NE 6 and Lincoln into a new eight-story tower OMRF is building just a few blocks north at its headquarters at NE 13 and Phillips on the OU Health Sciences Center campus.
“OMRF wanted to consolidate all of its scientists into one facility, so that there’d be a cross-pollination of ideas,” said J.R. Caton, the Presbyterian Health Foundation vice president responsible for leasing of space in the research park.
Meanwhile, of the 64 companies based in the park, 41 are startup biotech companies whose entrepreneurial owners are trying to bring a new drug or product to market and have a different mindset than the OMRF scientists, Caton said.
“They have concerns about their proprietary information and anyone knowing what they’re doing,” he said.
When the last of the OMRF staff move on, occupancy at the 27-acre, 700,000-square-foot park — will drop from about 80 percent to 75 percent, Caton said. But he anticipates vacancy to be 20 percent again or less within a year.
OMRF and the OU Health Sciences Center, Caton said, are expected to spin off more startups, whose entrepreneurs plan to move into the park.
Though biotech, or biomedical, companies comprise the biggest part of the bioscience sector, the industry also includes bioagricultural — or finding new or improved crops, refined fuels and energy sources, said Sheri Stickley, president of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association, an organization started three years ago to support promotion, training, networking and seed funding across the industry.
Most of the statewide research activity, she said, is concentrated in an 11-county swatch across central Oklahoma, stretching from Ardmore through Norman and Oklahoma City to Stillwater, or from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to Oklahoma State University.
“The sector has matured and developed into a critical mass,” Stickley said, “so that we’re beginning to see a real economic impact.”
According to a study conducted by Battelle Memorial Research Institute for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Oklahoma’s bioscience sector grew 25 percent from 2004 to 2008, or at twice the national average over the same time period.
Stickley contributes the growth to the quality of internationally-recognized research being conducted here, the city’s innovative research park being free-standing but located by the OU HSC, and several resources to help with state funding for availability of early-stage capital for bioscience companies.
Last year alone, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, funded $4.43 million in statewide research projects and attracted $32.5 million in outside money, spokesman Steve Paris said. Since 1987, the agency has administered $68.3 million and researchers have attracted $341 million, he said.
The average yearly wage in Greater Oklahoma City is $37,773, compared with $45,439 for an employee of a bioscience company. Area bioscience firms have annual revenues of $4.1 billion and employ 27,800 workers with total compensation of $1.5 billion. Including indirect impacts, bioscience companies contribute $6.7 billion in economic activity to the region and support 51,000 jobs earning $2.2 billion in wages.
SOURCE: The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber