By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
Ann Stevens has served as BioMed SA’s president since its inception in 2005. She has helped to grow and promote San Antonio’s healthcare and bioscience industry. She recently answered some questions about BioMed SA and the role the nonprofit organization plays in the city’s booming healthcare and bioscience industry.
SHN: Why was BioMed SA created?AS: BioMed SA was founded in 2005 by former Mayor Henry Cisneros and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to organize and promote the community’s substantial biomedical assets and raise the visibility of San Antonio as a City of Science and Health. Our mission is to accelerate the growth of what is already San Antonio’s leading industry, healthcare and bioscience, to create economic benefit for the region and contribute to improving global health.
SHN: What have been BioMed SA’s major accomplishments since its founding in 2005?
AS: Having an industry cluster organization like BioMed SA in place, along with a cohesive industry growth strategy, has helped San Antonio raise its biomedical profile to attract industry professionals and companies like Medtronic, InCube Labs, and Innovative Trauma Care from outside the region. At the same time, we’ve helped develop a local “innovation eco-system” to foster the growth of homegrown companies and talent. In addition to raising awareness of the sector overall, BioMed SA spearheaded a strategic initiative to identify San Antonio’s leading biomedical assets and leverage them for the collective benefit. The attraction of the World Stem Cell Summit to San Antonio Dec. 3-5, 2014 is testament to the potential of this strategy.
SHN: How does BioMed SA work with San Antonio’s life sciences companies and institutions?
AS: Joining BioMed SA enables companies and institutions to collaborate in growing and promoting this dynamic sector. Members benefit from strategic introductions, visibility raising initiatives, information updates, and getting to know local economic developers. They can participate in industry-specific work groups and events to advance sector growth and can submit nominations for BioMed SA’s annual Julio Palmaz Award for Innovation in Healthcare and the Biosciences. Members can also take advantage of a national cost-savings program that provides discounts on valuable products and services.
SHN: What are the strengths of San Antonio’s Life Sciences industry?
AS: In addition to being a regional hub for medical care and health professions education, San Antonio is increasingly recognized as a national leader in bioscience research and commercialization. Our vibrant biomedical community is bringing new therapies and solutions to market for some of mankind’s most complex diseases, with recognized strengths in diabetes, wound healing and regenerative medicine, infectious diseases, neurologic disorders, and cancer. We are also the “Home of US Military Medicine” with the nation’s largest military medical treatment complex and allied health training campus.
The city’s biomedical assets are supported by an innovation eco-system consisting of multiple tech transfer generators, incubators and accelerator initiatives; commercialization and entrepreneurship programs; research and technology parks with available land and flexible office space; supportive local government officials; and organizations that bring people together to exchange ideas and collaborate.
SHN: Which areas will generate growth?
AS: We believe all five of the disease areas identified above are ones that San Antonio can build on as it brings its biomedical expertise and assets to bear and as the word begins to spread. We’ve already seen several examples of companies relocating or expanding into San Antonio because of our critical mass of expertise in these areas.
SHN: What are San Antonio’s competitive advantages in the Life Sciences industry?
AS: Healthcare and bioscience is the city’s leading industry, employing more than one of every six people in the local workforce, with an annual economic impact of $30 billion. It is also one of the target industries in the community’s SA2020 vision and economic development strategic plan. Having a cohesive strategy and cluster organization in place to bring the industry segments together is key.
Research is the fuel that drives the life sciences industry, and in San Antonio it springs from three distinct, yet collaborative, sources: research organizations, private sector companies, and the U.S. military. Some of these entities have been operating in San Antonio for more than 70 years and are recognized leaders in their fields. The willingness of these organizations to collaborate with each other has been an important advantage for us.
SHN: What problems does San Antonio need to address to expand its Life Sciences industry?
AS: It is important for San Antonio to continue raising awareness of its exceptional biomedical assets and strengths since we have historically been better known for other industries. At the same time, we must focus on expanding the availability of venture capital to translate discoveries made in our research labs into innovative solutions for physicians and patients with unmet medical needs. San Antonio’s biomedical sector is a resource to the world, and local breakthroughs can have global impact when sufficiently funded and promoted.
SHN: Is there enough venture capital available to fuel the startup of new medical device, drug and other life science ventures?
AS: Capital availability has been a limiting factor for us in the past but has improved significantly in the last few years. We now have two homegrown VC funds focused largely on the life sciences, and we have begun to attract increasing interest from investors around the nation.
SHN: We live in an increasingly global world, how does San Antonio compete and collaborate with other countries in the life sciences industry?
AS: Our vision for this industry is for San Antonio to be recognized as a global leader in healthcare and bioscience, so getting the word out about our extensive biomedical assets and strengths is very important. BioMed SA exhibits at international industry conferences and participates in foreign economic missions to open doors and forge relationships with biomedical entities around the world. Over the years, we have traveled to Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, India, and Israel to build awareness and facilitate collaboration with interested companies and institutions.
SHN: How important is the commercialization of new technology spinning out of local universities to the city’s Life Sciences industry?
AS: San Antonio is increasingly recognized as a biomedical hub with unique assets in place and a track record of life-saving medical innovations. The stent invented in the 1980s by Dr. Julio Palmaz of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio revolutionized cardiac care and was named one of “Ten Patents that Changed the World.” Both the Health Science Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have spun off a number of biomedical companies to commercialize medical discoveries made here.
SHN: How will the new Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin affect San Antonio’s Life Sciences industry?
AS: A good medical school is the foundation for developing a life sciences industry in any region. That has certainly been the case here in San Antonio with the UT Health Science Center and its five professional schools, and we would expect that to be the case in other regions as well. At the same time, San Antonio will soon be getting a new School of Osteopathic Medicine, being developed by the University of the Incarnate Word, which will further strengthen our capabilities. In addition, San Antonio’s expertise in key disease areas continues to distinguish it from other regions. We are also known for being highly collaborative and open to exploring possibilities that leverage our strengths. By understanding what our strengths are and consciously building on them and promoting them, San Antonio is well-positioned for continued momentum.
SHN: What do you think San Antonio’s Life Sciences industry will be like in ten years?
AS: With continued focus and investment, I believe San Antonio will be recognized as a global leader in healthcare and bioscience, capitalizing on the strong foundation we already have in place and the vibrant growth that is currently under way. Much like our 5-time NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, by continuing to work together and consciously building on our strengths, we have the opportunity to go from “good to great” and make major contributions to the health of the nation and world.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the current issue of Silicon Hills News’ print magazine on the life sciences industry in central Texas.