Tampa Bay’s biotech future comes into focus

June 29, 2021

On June 15, the Tampa Bay EDC hosted its second Economic Development (ED) Talks of 2021 on the future of Tampa’s Biotech/Pharma sector. The virtual panel of industry experts on pharma industry site selection, talent, research and manufacturing was moderated by Moffitt Cancer Center President & CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu. The panelists explored what our community needs to do to enhance its competitiveness and propel our biotech industry cluster to the next level. SouthState Bank generously sponsored the event.

Dr. Hwu asked Gregory Burkart, managing director of Duff and Phelps’ Site Selection and Incentives Advisory practice, for an overview of the pharmaceutical manufacturing landscape and what criteria communities need to attract projects. He noted that “projects follow people” and that Tampa already has a healthy concentration of bioengineering talent that would make it an excellent location for pharma companies requiring that expertise. Companies specializing in niche innovation in bioengineering are poised to grow here and strengthen a competitive advantage for us.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s vice president of Human Resources and Global Product Development, Chantal Veillon, said that Tampa’s proximity to an international airport, seaport, rail and major highways ticked the right logistical boxes for manufacturers. She noted that pharmaceutical manufacturing project sites, once selected, are likely to remain for decades due to the significant capital investment required, so that it makes sense to have specific talent attraction strategies and workforce relocation packages to ensure that the operation thrives.

Mark Cunningham, senior director of Business Operations and Infrastructure Strategy on the R & D Strategy team at Janssen, a Johnson & Johnson company, discussed what criteria are necessary for successful pharmaceutical research operations. He mentioned National Institutes of Health funding, venture capital investment, world-class lab space, and patent activity as essentials for drug discovery and R & D, but also noted the importance of a pipeline of technical talent to support those operations. Mark pointed out Tampa’s strengths in data sciences and analytics as well as bioengineering and suggested developing recruitment strategies centered on these core strengths.

Dr. Kevin Sneed, Dean of USF Health Taneja College of Pharmacy, remarked that USF is seeing an influx of new students and pharmacy professionals from northeastern and other markets – and that these people are increasingly likely to stay in the area and enrich our talent pool. He highlighted the economic benefits of locating in Tampa and the elevated level of interest he is seeing from companies interested in partnering with the college.

My own takeaway from this event was that while Tampa has a long way to go before it achieves the recognition that Boston, San Diego, and parts of New Jersey have earned as pharma hubs, we can make significant progress if we are intentional about growing our biotech and pharma sector. Focusing on what differentiates us, strengthening the niches that give us a competitive advantage, and coordinating our recruitment strategies with our healthcare and academic partners will help us build a foundation for long-term success.