Claim to fame: Colorado makes its mark in bioscience as the industry roars to life nationwide


AURORA | Even as the recession raged, the bioscience industry saw relatively steady growth, according to a report published this month.

The report, from the research firm Batelle and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said the bioscience industry grew by 6.4 percent from 2001 to 2010, adding more than 96,000 jobs. At the same time, total employment for all private sector industries across the country fell by 2.9 percent, losing more than 3 million jobs.

Dr. Robin Shandas, the chair of the new Bioengineering Department at The University of Colorado Denver, points to 3D images of a patients blood vessels in his lab last year in the Research 2 building at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. A new report shows that bioscience projects like this are making Colorado a bioscience center. (Heather A. Longway/ The Aurora Sentinel)

“During the 2001 to 2010 period, the U.S. bioscience industry gained jobs, despite job losses in overall U.S. total private sector industry employment and among other leading knowledge-based industries,” the report said.

In Colorado, the report said, the industry grew by about 11 percent. And while the state’s bioscience industry largely flattened out since 2007, that’s good news relative to the state’s economy as a whole, which saw continued drops in employment from 2007 to 2010.

The report looked at 27 detailed industries within the North American Industry Classification System and broke them down into four major subsectors of the bioscience industry. One was agricultural feedstock and chemicals, which includes companies involved in crop protection, advanced seed, agricultural processing, bio-fuels and biodegradable materials from plant-based feedstock. Another was drugs and pharmaceuticals, a third was medical devices and equipment and a fourth was research, testing, and medical laboratories. According to the report, Colorado’s medical device sector grew by 19.5 percent since 2001, employment in agriculture-bioscience grew 46.9 percent from 2001-2010 and 28.6 percent from 2007 to 2010, years that included the height of the recession.

The Colorado BioScience Association also pointed to what it sees as continued growth in 2012 and beyond, including the addition of a new wing at the Fitzsimons redevelopment Authority’s headquarters in the Fitzsimons Life Science District in Aurora as well as several other expansions by Colorado companies this year.

“These elements together with over 600 bioscience companies, led by the best in the industry, generate a critical mass that really puts Colorado on the map,” President and CEO of the Colorado BioScience Association Holli Riebel said. “We’re proud to announce our industry achievements and create a dialog with investors and partners that Colorado is a great place for bioscience.”

Fred Mitchell, CEO at Beacon Biotechnology in Aurora, said that while the industry managed to keep its head above water during the recession, much of the growth during that time was concentrated among a few large and established companies.

The industry’s growth was “skyrocketing” from about 2001 until fall 2008, Mitchell said. But when the economy tanked, investment needed for companies to grow dried up, particularly for start-up companies.

“There was significant money, but it was going to one or two companies,” he said.

The company, which is based at the Fitzsimons Life Science District adjacent to the Anschutz Medical Campus, is is developing a technology that can test for hundreds of diseases in a manner of minutes using an easy and noninvasive test. The company’s BrightSPOT product uses an acutely sensitive test strip attached to a computer chip to run 112 different tests from a single sample.

During the recession, Beacon kept a small staff and was able to weather the storm, but Mitchell said there were other young companies who had to fold because they couldn’t get the funding they needed.

Mitchell said he is much more optimistic about the prospects for the industry now than he was during the recession, but convincing investors to take a risk on a bioscience start up is a challenge. While the industry can take a while longer to develop than other industries, the payoff at the end is often higher, he said.

“That’s the risk you take,” he said. “But the reward is so much bigger.”