Biosciences growth called slow but worthwhile
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If David Scholl had given up on the Athens, Ohio-based startup biotech company that launched in the early 1980s, the company might not have sold for $130 million three years ago.
Scholl, the former president and chief executive officer of Diagnostic Hybrids Inc., spoke to a group of about 100 representatives from private companies, university researchers and biosciences suppliers and backers at the third annual West Virginia Biosciences Summit Thursday at the Charleston Marriott Town Center.
Diagnostic Hybrids is a bioengineering firm that specializes in medical test kits using cellular and molecular technology. Hospitals and reference laboratories use its kits for viral respiratory infections such as herpes, chlamydia, and Influenza A and B viruses.
A biomedical entrepreneur founded the company in 1983 with two Ohio University professors when Scholl was a graduate student at the southeastern Ohio college.
Quidel Corp., a California-based corporation traded on NASDAQ, acquired the once privately held company for $130 million in cash in 2010. Quidel's products detect and diagnose many critical conditions, including cancer, bone health, pregnancy and infectious diseases.
Scholl said for the first 12 years, he and the rest of Diagnostic Hybrids' small staff felt like their heads were underwater. The company had spent $5 million in that time without much to show for it, he said.
"They're going to tell you you're going to lose money in the beginning," Scholl said.
Diagnostic Hybrids broke even in 1998 when it landed Quest Diagnostics, its first "big customer," he said. The company, which provides clinical laboratory services, had 17 different sites across the nation, including one in Charleston.
West Virginia was one of 34 states that saw job gains in the biosciences industry between 2001 and 2010, according to a report released by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Battelle, a nonprofit independent research and development organization.
More than 6,400 West Virginians work in the bioscience industry, a 22 percent increase in a decade.
The U.S. biosciences industry grew by 6.4 percent from 2001 to 2010, adding more than 96,000 jobs, according to the report. The majority of those added jobs were in research, testing and laboratories.
Fritz Bittenbender, vice president of alliance development and state government at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said the Mountain State's growth in the industry "is tremendous for your state."
Four states saw significant growth of more than 500 jobs within a decade, and West Virginia was one of them, Bittenbender said. He said the trends in the biosciences industry are "very positive" in the state and have a chance to continue to grow.
The biosciences industry is "powerful" for economic development, he said, because it has high-paying jobs.
"It's so important that states engage bioscience technology and realize the importance it has," Bittenbender said. "Failure and risk are inherently built into what we do and we need entrepreneurs who can handle these risks."
Bryan Brown, executive director of the Biosciences Association of West Virginia, which hosted Thursday's conference, said West Virginians shouldn't be afraid of failure when it comes to investing time and money in the biosciences industry.
Diagnostic Hybrids wouldn't be as successful as it is today if Scholl had given up, he said.
"We as a state cannot be afraid of failure," Brown said. "This industry creates something from nothing and we need to understand that it takes time to be successful. There's a mindset we need to change."
West Virginia has invested money in the industry by supporting its students, who are "key to bioscience in West Virginia," said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who spoke during the conference's luncheon.
The state Legislature created the West Virginia Research Trust Fund in 2008 to support expansions to research faculty and infrastructure in areas such as energy, biotechnology, engineering and environmental science.
The trust fund, also referred to as "Bucks for Brains," matches millions of dollars in private contributions for research with public funds to Marshall University and West Virginia University.
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