Life sciences: which US regions are on the rise?

By Isabel Cameron

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Life science Life sciences United states North america

Throughout 2023, the life sciences industry has been faced with many operational issues, including supply-chain uncertainty, inflation, and talent shortages.

However, since the end of the pandemic, many companies have sought to overcome such challenges by shifting their operating model, as well as by partnering with communities to establish a pipeline of workers to recruit from.

During Bio International 2023, Bio Pharma Reporter met with representatives from four key states that have capitalized on this trend by recognizing how to meet the needs of the life sciences sector. Here, we break down how these states are differentiating themselves and what they have to offer major pharmaceutical companies looking to put down roots.

New Jersey

New Jersey is home to the largest concentration of scientists and engineers per square mile and has over 3,200 life sciences companies operating across all sectors.

In addition, it boasts 14 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. After recent stagnation, Kathleen Coviello, chief economic transformation officer, State of New Jersey, said the region is striving to reclaim its role as a key player in the life sciences sector - through a combination of factors. 

Namely, Coviello says the state offers life science companies a ‘favorable business environment’ including tax incentives and grants, boosting its attractiveness.

Phil Murphy, governor of New Jersey, has also invested in fostering innovation and research, attracting talent and pharmaceutical firms to establish a strong presence in the region. Additionally, the state’s proximity to major academic institutions, like Rutgers University and all eight Ivy League schools, including Princeton University, facilitates collaboration.

The state’s ‘optimal’ location is another key factor for international companies looking to expand operations. In fact, in a recent interview​ with BioPharma Reporter, James Choi, EVP, chief marketing officer and head of global public affairs at Samsung Biologics, said the CDMO giant chose New Jersey over other states for its ‘strategic location’.

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Samsung Biologics recently chose New Jersey as its U.S. hub due to its 'strategic location' / © Getty Images

“From that spot in the United States, you are right by the major biotech’s across the Eastern corridor and you can get to the West Coast very easily. New Jersey is only a five hour plane ride from Europe, so we can get to our European clients much faster and more frequently as well,” he said.

“From New Jersey, we are able to hold meetings on the spot, attend conferences like BIO International 2023 and engage our clients in a much more meaningful and frequent way than we would otherwise be able to from South Korea.”

With the busiest seaport on the U.S. East Coast and one of the busiest airports in America, New Jersey is able to move people and products like no other state, Coviello adds.

“What sets New Jersey’s life sciences industry apart from other states is its rich ecosystem of established pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology startups, and academic institutions,” she adds.

“This interconnected network of resources and expertise fosters a dynamic environment for innovation and accelerates research breakthroughs. The state’s legacy in the life sciences sector, combined with its commitment to embracing emerging technologies, ensures that New Jersey remains at the forefront of advancements in the field.”

Georgia

Georgia’s life sciences industry has grown by 20% or 11,225 jobs, since 2015 and has contributed $50.2 billion in total economic impact.

EJane Caraway, director of life sciences, Georgia Department of Economic Development, said: “Georgia is the hub of the southeast US and life sciences is our fastest growing industry. Over the last several years, the sector has grown at about 179% as a whole – which is huge when you consider what we have gone through economically with Covid-19."

“Takeda have a large presence in Georgia, as well Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim, UCB, Johnson & Johnson and others. We have an awful lot across the board, from medical devices and research and development to manufacturing.”

EJANE
E.Jane Caraway / © Georgia Department of Economic Development

More than 78,000 Georgians work directly within the life sciences industry and the state’s colleges and universities have increased the number of students graduating with degrees in life sciences by 14% in the last five years.

In addition, Caraway hails the success of Georgia Quick Start, the workforce training program offered to qualifying companies investing in Georgia, which trains workers according to their specific needs. Life science companies that have benefited from the program include Takeda, Alcon, Boehringer Ingelheim, Boston Scientific, and Denderon.

“Georgia Quick Start has been in existence about 50 years and is part of the technical college systems of Georgia. The program is designed just how it sounds – to quickly train employees to enter the workforce. For anyone creating new jobs in Georgia, it is a discretionary offer paid by the state,” she says.

“For Takeda, folks learnt how to manufacture pieces as well as the company culture. It is also the basics you have to know, from The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

“So all these employees are trained and ready to work for Takeda when they enter the organisation – at no cost to the company. The program employs an awful lot of folks and is administered through the technical college system in Georgia.”

North Carolina

2022 was a record year for growth in North Carolina’s life sciences sector – with 33 new projects announced, totaling $2.1 billion of investments and more than 2,700 jobs in the industry.

The region is home to major companies like FujiFilm Diosynth, Thermo Fisher, Eli Lilly and others, and is well known for research and development coming out of its Research Triangle Park.

William Bullock, SVP, Economic Development and Statement Operations at North Carolina Biotechnology Center, said: “For others it is location, location, location – for us it is talent, talent, talent.”

“This is a sector North Carolina invested in 20 years ago. Just 60 years ago, North Carolina was one of the poorest states in the country – we were focused on agriculture, textiles, furniture manufacturing – with 40% of the population living on the poverty line."

NCBiotech headshot_Bill Bullock-39-B_5x7print (1)
William Bullock / © North Carolina Biotechnology Center

“Life sciences has grown steadily over the years – through increased investment, focus on education and a strong network of people. As a southern state, we have a really positive business climate, particularly for manufacturing.”

North Carolina’s record year was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the state able to respond to companies prioritizing speed to market, due to its existing infrastructure and facilities.  

“With the pandemic, there was already a global lack of capacity in the biopharma space for manufacturing. Everybody panicked and it was really a perfect storm for North Carolina. We had training. We had people. We could hit the ground running,” Bullock adds.

However, Bullock admits that the last few years have been ‘unprecedented’, and numbers will inevitably fall.

“After the pandemic rush, operations are clearly slowing. Will we have a similar year? I don’t think so. But it will be a good year and we are optimistic going forward. Another reason for optimism is the ongoing motivation of the federal administration to make and manufacture more products in the US rather than the flat globalization model.”

In January 2022, Eli Lilly and Company announced a $1 billion investment in a new pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Concord, creating nearly 600 jobs. In 2023, the company invested another $450 million investment into North Carolina's Research Triangle Park location.

“I never underestimate the value of any of those investments. Eli Lilly is a massive company and getting them to make multiple investments was a huge deal. When Lilly does its due diligence and picks your state multiple times, it's sending massive signal to the global community that says something's going right in North Carolina,” Bullock says.

In terms of workforce and talent, the state’s NCWorks initiative, a free, customized job training and recruiting program, has recruited thousands of people into the industry.

“We're at a point where we really have to bring more people into labor. All this growth is demanding that we find a broader labor force. One of the ways we need to do that is not only by nurturing our college graduates but going to populations of people who have never even considered working in life sciences. Programs like NCWorks are crucial in establishing a pipeline for our industry,” Bullock adds.

North Carolina also has 52 colleges and universities, among which are three Tier 1 research universities at the cutting edge of education — Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. Companies like Thermo Fisher have taken advantage of job training programs to create a pipeline of talent to support their continued growth in the state.

New Hampshire

As the biotech sector in the U.S. continues to grow, it is doing so not just in hubs, but in regions like New Hampshire – where some of the state’s biopharma entrepreneurs argue: ‘smaller is better’.

While less dominant than other industry powerhouses, New Hampshire’s life science and medical device sector comprises over 400 companies, employs over 7,000 people and contributes close to $6 billion to the state’s GDP.

The state is home to several notable life science and biotech companies like Novocure, a medical device manufacturer based in Switzerland; Lonza Biologics, global vaccine manufacturer with operations in Portsmouth; and Detact Diagnostics, a Dutch-based life sciences company that develops diagnostic tests for the health and food sector.

“The life sciences boom in New Hampshire is really exciting and you’re seeing a lot of folks that were either in the Boston or Cambridge area that are now crossing the border and we’re embracing that with open arms,” said Andrea Hechavarria, CEO and president of NH Life Sciences.

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Andrea Hechavarria / © NH Life Sciences

“I think what makes New Hampshire so exciting is that it is a small state, and you get a real sense of the community here. Due to our size, access to Government and state leaders and folks in the industry is incredibly accessible.

“We do a lot in R&D, we have a lot of strength in startups and early growth stage companies. There's a lot of resources here for companies that are really at that point of wanting to commercialize.”

As Hechavarria outlines, New Hampshire’s commercially attractive policies are a key incentive for companies looking to establish operations.

"New Hampshire has always had really strong small business community. First and foremost, this is because of business-friendly and tax-friendly environment – it’s a very low tax state," she says. 

“There is no sales tax and no inventory or income tax. So a lot of things you would see in other states, our neighbouring states, we don’t have that here. With our state legislature across the board, there is this understanding that small businesses are really the heart of our communities here in New Hampshire. This is a sentiment across the political aisles – both Democrat and Republican.”

In addition, the state is heavily involved in biofabrication, pioneered by the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) – a nonprofit organization focused on the development of large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and tissue-related technology.

“I really believe that what ARMI is doing will transform healthcare. The vision is to manufacture at-scale regenerative tissues,” Hechavarria adds.

“I recently visited a company called Lung Bio, part of United Therapeutics, who have their own organ manufacturing group. They are figuring out how you can manufacture lungs, kidneys and livers. This has huge potential – as you are no longer treating chronic illness, but you could have the ability to cure people by giving them new issues and new organs with their own cells. It’s an incredibly innovative way to think about healthcare.”

Looking forward, Hechavarria sees huge growth potential in the sector and believes New Hampshire must ‘convene and bring all these businesses together – whether its med tech, pharma, biofabrication, diagnostics or R&D – to network, establish industry-wide events and create an environment where the industry is connected, unified and poised for further growth.’

“I feel very strongly that New Hampshire will be a prominent and preeminent place for life sciences across the country. We have a really exciting network of companies here that I think has been largely untapped. It's been this little hidden gem. For a long time, I think people thought of us as just next to Massachusetts and not really realizing that we have our own identity in the industry.”

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