Oct. 21, 2016 | To bring life to a state’s life sciences sector, working together is key, and the Arkansas Life Sciences Summit keynote speaker Patrick Plues could see that spirit in abundance as he looked at his audience.
About 100 entrepreneurs, investors and research scientists gathered at the summit in Conway on Oct. 19 to learn from each other and presenters about building and expanding a life sciences company. The summit was organized and hosted by UAMS BioVentures of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and held at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
The event showcased presentations from 13 of the fastest-growing, Arkansas-based technology companies with research and innovation in the life sciences.
With many of them using research conducted at universities in the state, the companies are focused on products and services such as medical devices, drug discovery, diagnostics, biotechnology, natural products and agriculture sciences.
“It’s one thing to say you want to start a biotech cluster in a state and another thing to make it come to fruition,” Plues said. “There are a number of bumps in the road. The states that have been successful in doing that realize that this is a collaborative effort. I was pleased to see there is a lot of collaboration going on in Arkansas.”
He said state agencies, research institutions and business all have to come together, or the system falls apart. Plues pointed to life sciences sectors in Boston, western Pennsylvania and the Bay Area as examples of success stories.
Plues is the vice president of state government affairs for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). At BIO, he is responsible for executing a comprehensive state government relations strategy in all 50 states to create a positive business environment for the biopharmaceutical industry.
“We have what we call our state affiliates in almost every state in the union,” Plues said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have one in Arkansas. We really would like to have one here. I’m hoping that Arkansas BIO comes to fruition here and becomes a state affiliate.”
Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming also lack state BIO associations.
“One of the goals of the summit is to establish a BIO affiliate in Arkansas,” Nancy Gray, Ph.D., UAMS BioVentures director, said. “The number of innovative, new companies at the summit and in the state shows Arkansas has what is needed in substance and in spirit to create an affiliate.”
The advantages of having a state affiliate range from being able to share information, business strategies and best practices as part of BIO International’s network to group purchasing that can lower the cost of buying things like lab equipment, Plues said.
After Plues spoke, several companies made presentations, including Burke Therapeutics, BiologicsMD, HD Nursing, BioBiotic Systems, NuShores Biosciences, Ezra Pharma, State 1 Diagnostics, Kaczowski Bio-Simulation Technologies Inc., Now Diagnostics, Infinite Enzymes, Invotek, TiFiber and Phyzit.
Amy Hester, Ph.D., R.N., chief scientific officer for HD Nursing, described how her company grew out of research she began in 2008 and a program she helped put into practice to reduce fall injuries among patients in the UAMS Medical Center. Hester also is director of Nursing Research and Innovation for the medical center.
“We predict who among patients is at risk of a fall, we prevent that fall from happening and then help them sustain those gains over time,” she said. “We implemented the full program in 2011 and reduced falls with injury by 60 percent and overall falls by 11 percent, saving UAMS Medical Center $1.2 million in one year.”
Talking with UAMS BioVentures staff convinced Hester to try to do the same for other hospitals through HD Nursing. She said revenue has grown to about $750,000 this year from $26,500 last year and is projected to grow to $12 million by 2018.
Business veterans of start-up companies, economic development officials and experts speaking during breakout sessions at the summit covered topics such as Building a Management, Advisory Board and Staffing Team; Funding, Financing and Exit Strategies; Intellectual Property Strategies for Small Companies; Bioinformatics; and Experiences in Building a Successful Life Sciences Company.
A morning panel that opened the summit discussed issues involving life science, research, development, regulations and early stage funding in Arkansas, and an afternoon panel provided insights into Food and Drug Administration submissions and regulatory strategies for life sciences, biotechnology, medical devices, drug discovery and diagnostics.
Summit sponsors were Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Arkansas Capital Corp., Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, MKP Inspired, BMR Management Resources, UAMS, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Arkansas Children’s Research Institute.