Biotech industry important part of Texas economy
Bioscience research, innovation steadying influence on cyclical energy cycle
When Comptroller Glenn Hegar spoke in January before the Senate Finance Committee regarding the downturn in the energy industry, he made reference to the fact that the Texas economy is much more diversified than it was in the mid-1980s oil bust. He said that economic diversity has allowed the state to weather the ups and downs of its formerly dominant industry.
A key agent of the diversification was highlighted in stark terms this week with the publication of a report by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. The biotechnology industry plays an important role in the Texas economy and is a major reason that the sharply declining oil and gas prices of the past year have not wreaked havoc on the state economy.
The report, called The Value of Bioscience Innovation in Growing Jobs and Improving Quality of Life 2016, found that the industry employs well more than 1.6 million people nationwide and does so at an average annual salary of $94,543. That’s more than twice the national annual average wage.
In Texas specifically, the industry is focused on academic research and the health care and medical device fields. The state’s universities, led by nationally ranked schools like The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, conducted $3 billion worth of bioscience academic research and development in 2014. That amount represents nearly two-thirds of all research and development expenditures in the state. They also were largely responsible for bringing $1 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
State leaders have emphasized the biotech industry for years. Former Gov. Rick Perry made the industry a focus of the state’s economic development arm, Texas One. Texas A&M’s biotech corridor has been bringing together educators, researchers and the private sector for more than five years. UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven announced a series of Quantum Leap initiatives in 2015, which include several efforts at the intersection of health care, technology and research.
In the important realm of business innovation and entrepreneurship, Texas ranks consistently among the top states nationwide in terms of venture capital investment and the number of patents awarded. The state has regularly increased the number of patents earned, going from fewer than 1,000 in 2012 to about 1,200 in both 2014 and 2015. Led by the concentration of the health care sector in Houston, Texas’s leading source of patents is medical and surgical devices. That category was responsible for more than three times the number of patents awarded than any other in the years between 2012 and 2015.
“Advances in the biosciences have reshaped all aspects of biomedical development from the way we study medicine, discover and develop therapeutics and diagnose and treat diseases and medical conditions,” stated the report.
It also highlighted the non-economic benefits of biotech research. Hepatitis C, for instance, was once thought incurable but now has a 90 percent cure rate, according to the report. The death rate for cancer, too, has fallen by 20 percent since its peak in 1991. And, advances in vaccines over the past 20 years will prevent more than 730,000 early deaths. These statistics are all thanks to the biotechnology industry.