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Iowa Bioscience Report Urges More State Support for University Researchers, Facilities

April 06, 2011

Recruiting bioscience faculty to universities and investing in R&D infrastructure tops the list of strategies recommended for Iowa to capitalize on a growing bioscience economy. A report commissioned by Innovate Iowa also finds that while significant progress has been made in growing the state's bioscience industry over the last 10 years, declining state funds to build research capacity and provide seed and venture capital remains a challenge for bioscience companies and entrepreneurs to compete regionally and globally.

The report, which updates a 2004 strategic roadmap for bioscience development, finds employment in Iowa's bioscience sector grew 26 percent between 2001 and 2008, and Iowa's academic bioscience R&D expenditures totaled more than $450 million in FY08. The industry also remained resilient during the first year of the recession, continuing to create jobs while national private sector unemployment rose. However, the state's academic bioscience R&D base has not kept pace with growth at the national level, the report finds. Between 2004 and 2008, academic bioscience R&D grew 13.8 percent in Iowa compared to a 22.3 percent increase at the national level.

Compounding the state's challenges is lack of capital for bioscience companies, according to the report. Although the legislature put initiatives into place to address the need for early stage capital following the 2004 report, many of the programs are no longer available. For example, in 2006 lawmakers dedicated $8.2 million to provide support for proof-of-concept activities at universities to build research capacity, and in subsequent years created a Fund of Funds program and angel investor tax credit. With a large deficit to fill in 2009, the legislature reduced the tax credit authorization for the Iowa Fund of Funds to $60 million and eliminated the angel investor and seed capital tax credits.

Recommendations for capturing opportunities in the coming years center on four strategies with university funding as a top priority. To this end, the report recommends creating a university/industry matching grant program and streamlining the technology transfer process. The second strategy is to build Iowa's risk capital market by reinstating the angel investor and seed capital tax credits and creating a state funded but privately managed bioscience seed fund. Developing a bioscience talent pool and creating a supportive business climate round out the recommendations.

The 2011 Iowa Bioscience Strategy report is available at: http://innovateiowa.org/content/Iowa-Bioscience-Plan.pdf

Iowar&d, bio, higher ed, policy recommendations, strategic plan