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Collaboration and innovation: growing North Carolina's life sciences ecosystem

Over the past four decades, the life sciences industry in North Carolina has experienced an evolution, transforming the state into a global hub for innovation, research, and development. Fostering collaboration among academia, government, and industry, North Carolina's journey in the life sciences sector has led directly to discoveries improving patient’s lives right now.

Our state’s rise as a powerhouse in life sciences can be attributed to a myriad of factors, including significant investments in research infrastructure, a robust talent pipeline, and a culture of collaboration that fosters innovation. North Carolina has emerged as a leader in various areas of the life sciences sector, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and agricultural biotechnology. The state's journey began with the establishment of Research Triangle Park (RTP) in the 1950s, which catalyzed bringing together academia, industry, and government research institutions. And in 1984, the state’s General Assembly had the foresight to establish the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to encourage the development of the life sciences across the state.

Since then, North Carolina has witnessed a steady influx of biotech and pharmaceutical companies, drawn by the region's skilled workforce, world-class research universities, and supportive business environment. The state is home to numerous renowned institutions and organizations, which have played pivotal roles in driving innovation and research excellence.

Anthony Atala, MD
Anthony Atala, M.D., Chair and Director, WFIRM

North Carolina's ecosystem for breakthroughs in genetic engineering, life-saving techniques, and medical devices has significantly contributed to improving lives worldwide. The state's success in attracting top talent, fostering entrepreneurship, and nurturing collaborative relationships has positioned it as a global leader in biotechnology.

Collaboration lies at the heart of North Carolina's success story in the life sciences. By bringing together diverse stakeholders, including researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, and healthcare professionals, the state has created a fertile ground for innovation and discovery.

A notable example of collaboration is the Innovation Quarter, in Winston-Salem. Formally the Piedmont Triad Research Park, this research park serves as a vibrant hub where industry leaders, academic institutions, and government agencies converge to drive scientific breakthroughs and translate research into real-world applications. Surrounding Bailey Park - an inviting green area that often includes entertainment and food vendors - historic tobacco factories and buildings have been revitalized to house medical education, entrepreneurship programs, starter companies, and pharmaceutical/biotechnology organizations. The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is a proud tenant of Innovation Quarter.

One of the fastest growing intersections of biotechnology innovation and business in the nation – the RegenMed Hub – is found in the bustling downtown Winston-Salem where the world’s largest regenerative medicine research facility – the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) – anchors the south end of the Innovation Quarter district, which is focused on research, biomedical science education, and business.WFIRM

Collaborative initiatives such as public-private partnerships, research consortia, and technology transfer programs have always played a pivotal role in accelerating the commercialization of healthcare and technology innovations. These partnerships facilitate knowledge exchange, resource sharing, and access to funding, thereby fueling the growth of startups and fostering an entrepreneurial culture.

Sustaining North Carolina's momentum in the life sciences sector will require continued investment in research, infrastructure, and talent development. Collaborative initiatives addressing biotechnology challenges, fostering diversity and inclusion, and promoting sustainability will be key to driving innovation and creating lasting societal impact. By capitalizing on its unique strengths and fostering a culture of collaboration, the state is well-positioned for continued success and leadership in the dynamic and ever-evolving field of life sciences.

Happy 40th Anniversary, NCBiotech! Here’s hoping for another successful 40+ years of helping the life sciences grow and prosper in North Carolina.