Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

HJR 248: Joint Subcommittee Studying Biosciences and Biotechnology

August 19, 2008

The Joint Subcommittee Studying Biosciences and Biotechnology in the Commonwealth held its first meeting in Richmond. Delegate Mark Sickles was elected chair and Senator Janet Howell vice-chair.


Staff provided a brief overview of biotechnology and the resolution creating the joint subcommittee. Biosciences and biotechnology are relevant to a number of different types of research and industries that are prominent in the Commonwealth. Three areas designated by the Virginia Research and Technology Advisory Commission as focus areas in which Virginia can become a national leader include:

  • Life sciences
  • Energy and environment
  • Microelectronics

The joint subcommittee is tasked with reviewing and building upon the recommendations made by Governor Mark Warner's Biotechnology Commission. The resolution sets forth 11 specific areas of inquiry and directs the joint subcommittee to include the participation of agricultural and tobacco interests, federal laboratories in Virginia, and not-for-profit life science and research institutions.


Patrick Kelly, Vice President, State & Government Relations, Biotechnology Industry Organization
Patrick Kelly provided the members with a national perspective on where Virginia stands in relation to the other 49 states in its bioscience efforts. He distributed copies of a recently released report entitled "State Bioscience Initiatives 2008." This report looks at state-level indicators of the performance of the bioscience sector in each state, such as research and development awards, venture capital, patents, and degrees awarded in the biosciences.

Mr. Kelly indicated that while Virginia did not fall into the top 10 of any of the indicators, the state is soundly in the top 20 in bioscience performance. However, Virginia's neighbors North Carolina and Maryland frequently outperform the Commonwealth in many of the analyses. A PowerPoint presentation outlining Mr. Kelly's remarks is available on the study website.

Michael Schewel, Secretary of Commerce &Trade and Co-chair of the Commission on Biotechnology under Gov. Warner
Michael Schewel provided an overview of the work and recommendations of the Commission on Biotechnology, which met from 2002 to 2005, and that issued two reports. The first report provided recommendations for initial steps and leadership strategies, and the second included specific budget recommendations for the 2007-2008 budget.

The recommendations of the Commission were based on five key premises:

  • Biotechnology industry is growing rapidly.
  • Biotechnology provides many opportunities for economic development.
  • Biotechnology industry must develop close relationships with research and development entities such as universities, federal labs, and nonprofit research groups.
  • Availability of venture capital is vital.
  • Competition in the biotechnology sector among not only the 50 states, but also among many nations, is intense and will continue to increase.

Mr. Schewel said that nothing has changed since the issuing of the report to alter these premises and that the biotechnology industry has grown even more rapidly than anticipated.
The Commission’s recommendations focus on those areas where the government could make a difference, or be more effective than the private sector, in encouraging the growth of biotechnology in the Commonwealth.

The Commission’s first recommendation centers on the development of facilities with wet lab space to attract start-up companies. Mr. Schewel said that the state was uniquely positioned to provide its credit for building these facilities, as many start-ups do not have the kind of credit necessary to build these facilities. In addition, the state is positioned to benefit not only from rent on the facilities, but also to recognize increased tax revenues as a return on investment. The second recommendation was to enhance the commercialization activities of universities. The Commission found that commercialization activities or the process needed to convert research and development into a marketable product were not funded nearly to the extent as basic research and development. Third, the Commission recommended the creation of partnerships between the biosciences and the information technology community, such as the creation of the bioinformatics center at Virginia Tech. Finally, the Commission recommended the mobilization of available venture capital.

Mr. Schewel said that in his opinion, these recommendations were still worthy of the joint subcommittee’s consideration. He said there were ways to think creatively about the recommendations, even in a time of tight budgets.

Mr. Schewel closed his remarks with the caveat that one thing the Commission could have done better was to work more closely with the legislature in promoting its recommendations. He said that the Commission did not work enough to enable the legislature to understand efforts to promote biotechnology by Maryland and North Carolina. In hindsight, the Commission should have worked harder to build a case for recommendations that the General Assembly could support and adopt.

Work Plan & Next Meeting

The joint subcommittee will focus its efforts on reviewing and discussing the Commission report and prioritizing recommendations to be made to the 2009 General Assembly. Topics for the next meeting will include:

  • Review legislative efforts in other states relating to biotechnology.
  • Assess the current research and development work at universities in the Commonwealth dedicated to biotechnology.
  • Report on current initiatives in the Commonwealth that, while perhaps not biotech-specific, can still be used to support the industry such as the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund.

It was also suggested that a future meeting be held in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Biotech Conference in Chantilly in October.

The Hon. Philip Hamilton

For information, contact:
Lisa Wallmeyer and Patrick Cushing, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

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