Bioscience strengthens in Birmingham as companies expand

 The University of Alabama at Birmingham's presence in the region is a key reason why bioscience is on the rise in Birmingham.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham's presence in the region is a key reason why bioscience is on the rise in Birmingham.

By the numbers, Alabama’s biosciences industry is booming.

A recent study from the University of Alabama said the industry contributes $7.3 billion annually to Alabama’s economy through the work of 780 companies. The industry employs 48,000 directly and indirectly, and of the 17,871 employed directly by biosciences, average annual salary is $67,664.

Specifically in Birmingham, bioscience is on the rise, home to UAB, Southern Research and a number of biotechnology companies like Evonik Industries, which in March announced plans for an expansion of production and a Global Competence Center for Medical Devices at its local facility.

Much of this is due to the presence of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the region, said Dr. Kathy Nugent, executive director of UAB’s Bill L. Harbert Institution for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and assistant professor for UAB’s biotechnology master’s program.

 Evonik Industries expanded its footprint in Birmingham this March.

Evonik Industries expanded its footprint in Birmingham this March.

“UAB is a place where we can leverage science in a way to bring more commercialization,” she said. “With university research funding almost at the $600 million mark, most of that in the life sciences area, it’s safe to say we have the components to develop a sizable footprint in biotechnology for the Birmingham region that could be significant.”

Bob Shufflebarger is the CEO of TriAltus Bioscience, a Birmingham-based company that provides services for life scientists who work with genetically engineered proteins. He said as Birmingham biotech companies have significant successes, it builds momentum and investor confidence so that other burgeoning biotech companies can access capital. According to a report by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, since 2012 Alabama bioscience companies have received $101 million in venture capital funding, with investments focused in biotechnology and health information technology.

“I’ve been in the life sciences community as long as I’ve been in Birmingham, and because of inventions coming from UAB, I see [the biotech emergence] as a part of a larger movement as Birmingham’s environment becomes more attractive for startups,” he said.

UAB’s Commercialization Accelerator, Innovation Depot and Alabama Launchpad are a few of the many organizations that have made Birmingham a hub for startups. This growth is intentional, Nugent said, and not just from UAB – the Birmingham Business Alliance, Alabama Power and the City of Birmingham are all strategic partners in recruiting bioscience companies to Birmingham.

 Southern Research is a multifaceted research institution located in the heart of downtown Birmingham.

Southern Research is a multifaceted research institution located in the heart of downtown Birmingham.

“We are not just growing companies organically from UAB and in Birmingham, but we are also showing we have resources and an infrastructure to help support early stage biotech companies from other parts of the country and other countries as well,” she said. “We are competitive in the sense that we have medical and science and health care expertise here.”

Here are some life sciences companies in Birmingham to watch: