Life Sciences Industry Catapults To New Heights

September 13, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — West Michigan is home to a diverse mix of companies and organizations involved in the life sciences, from pharmaceuticals and nutriceuticals to medical devices, instrumentation and diagnostics, to biotechnology research and ancillary services. Some are involved in discovery and some are involved in manufacturing, or both.

Companies and institutions in Michigan invest more than $2 billion each year in

research and development, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Since 2000, nearly 120 companies have set down roots in the state. The MEDC estimates there are 542 life sciences companies in Michigan that employ some 3,777 people and account for $4.8 billion in annual sales. MEDC statistics show that the state’s life sciences industry has exceeded growth of the U.S. average, with 27 percent growth in employment, 32 percent growth in number of companies formed and 165 percent growth in sales.

In Greater Grand Rapids alone nearly $1 billion has been invested in the life sciences in less than a decade, according to The Right Place Inc. economic development organization. There are more than 100 life sciences firms in the area. Right Place data indicate the metro Grand Rapids area is home to the country’s sixth largest biopharmaceutical cluster, that there are more than 850 open clinical trials taking place here, and that more than $100 million in public funds are being applied to active research projects.

Hospital care in Grand Rapids is provided by Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care, Metro Health and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. The region is also served by Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Bronson Methodist and Borgess Health System in Kalamazoo, as well as by Holland Hospital and Zeeland Hospital.

Research and education are being carried out by the Van Andel Research Institute and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, which is expanding into Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Medical Education Research Center, a consortium comprised of Saint Mary’s, Spectrum, MSU and Grand Valley State University.

The VAI is an independent research institute delving into the genetic and molecular origins of cancer and other diseases. The institute anchors the “Medical Mile” on Michigan Street hill. Its neighbors are Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital and Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, GVSU’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative, the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, the Center for Molecular Medicine, and the Michigan Street Development project that includes the Secchia Center, future home of the MSU med school.

West Michigan counts Perrigo Co., J.B. Laboratories, Welch Laboratories, Zeeland Chemicals and Corium International among its pharmaceutical companies. The medical device and biotechnology community includes Stryker, Medtronic, Avalon Laboratories, A-TEK Medical and West Pharmaceutical Services. Nutriceutical companies include Alticor Inc. and Mead Johnson Nutritionals. XenoBase-BioIntegration Suite specializes in bioinformatics.

Southwest Michigan First and The Right Place Inc. formed a partnership last year to draw more life sciences investment, research and entrepreneurs to West Michigan.

“The assets in greater Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo are so complementary and in such close proximity, it makes tremendous sense to combine our efforts,” said Ron Kitchens, president and CEO of Southwest Michigan First.

Right Place President Birgit Klohs added that by packaging what the two areas have to offer, the two organizations can truly compete with better known markets for the larger investments.

Life sciences companies that come to the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo markets have a variety of industry resources they can tap, including: business incubators and SmartZones; the Core Technology Alliance; West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative; MichBio; Western Michigan University’s Biosciences Research & Commercialization Center; Southwest Michigan First Innovation Center; the University Research Corridor; Central Michigan University’s Center for Applied Research & Technology; Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center network; and the University Research Corridor — an alliance of MSU, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

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