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Louisiana Becomes A Biotechnology Center

The southern state of Louisiana is making strides in the field of biotechnology, with hopes of diversifying its economic base and providing more employment to researchers and pharmaceutical industry workers.

Big centers for biotechnology companies are found in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina the Washington, D.C. area and maybe soon in Louisiana. The southern state is known more for its spicy creole cooking than it is for its cutting edge research, but state support for research is beginning to pay off.

The Baton Rouge-based Pennington Biomedical Research Center recently received a patent for a new cancer treatment that has shown great promise in laboratory tests. Another firm, TransaGenRx Incorporated, has made significant breakthroughs in pharmaceutical production that could even be important for homeland security.

Steven Moye, chief executive of the Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium in New Orleans says the state is looking both inside and outside its boundaries for start up companies.

"Since we are in our infancy in trying to build this biotech sector, it is going to take not only recruiting in companies to Louisiana, but to really take the technologies that are created in our institutions and commercialize them to the marketplace," he said. "That, too, will help attract industry to Louisiana."

Mr. Moye says an example of this state involvement is the $1 million in seed money followed by an additional $2.5 million the state is giving to the TransGenRx company which is located on the campus of Louisiana State University, or LSU.

"The $1 million was the total amount that LSU provided in terms of infrastructure, laboratory space and so on, for the particular company," said Mr. Moye. "The state came in and said,'We will give you 2.5 million for equipment needs as long as, over the next three to five years, you are going to create 500 or so jobs' and they firmly believe they can. So, the state played a pivotal role."

As part of Louisiana's effort to establish a biotech industry in the state, Steven Moye accompanied industry representatives and state officials on a recent trip to Washington to promote new technologies to various government agencies. He says Homeland Security officials showed special interest in the TransGenRx company's advances in using chicken eggs for vaccine production. Mr. Moye says the technique developed by the company could help the government produce vaccines quickly and cheaply to counter bio-terrorist attacks.

"We potentially could solve many of their production problems that they are currently facing by using the trans-genetic chicken as a bio-reactor in producing the vaccines in the eggs," he said.

Mr. Moye says the Louisiana company's unique production techniques could also be used to produce the protein used by spiders to make their webs. The U.S. Army is among the potential customers for synthetic spider web material, which is twice as strong as steel by weight and could be used in bullet-proof vests and other armor.

TransGenRx expects to begin commercial production of some products, including insulin, in the coming weeks. The company is also seeking $50 - $100 million to build a full-scale production center near Baton Rouge.