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Virginia’s Continued Innovation and Growing Economy


Great thinking and discoveries have always happened in Virginia.

We have more than 100 private, four-year colleges and graduate schools, 39 public colleges and 23 community colleges. We’re also home to the second-oldest college in the country, the College of William & Mary, which was founded in Williamsburg in 1693. Our rich history of scientific discovery and intellectual innovation recently added one more achievement as researchers at the University of Virginia announced the game-changing discovery of previously unknown vessels that directly connect the brain to the immune system.

What state could possibly be a better fit for an initiative aimed at building a powerhouse life sciences industry?

Currently, about 23,000 people work in Virginia’s life sciences industry at more than 800 facilities throughout the state, according to the website of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Nearly half of the state’s life sciences companies are engaged in research, testing and medical labs, 29 percent engage in bioscience-related distribution, 20 percent in drug and pharmaceuticals production and 6 percent make medical devices and equipment.

However, the state’s life sciences industry will get a $500 million-plus boost over the next two years. Aimed at promoting growth, discovery innovation and additional jobs within the industry, the Virginia Bioscience Economy Initiative is intended to establish life sciences as a pillar of the state’s economy.

“The Virginia Bioscience Economy Initiative is a comprehensive set of legislative and budget proposals for Virginia, building on programs that work, improving what we have, and creating new programs with long-term strategic impact, all designed to move Virginia into leadership in the bioscience innovation economy,” Virginia Bio explains. “The plan is the culmination of over a year of effort led by Virginia Bio and involving private sector leaders, university administrators and researchers, and policymakers, and involved meetings, conferences, research, discussions, work groups.”

Helping move the initiative forward

In addition to participating in the creation of the initiative, PSI expects to support the concerted effort to grow the state’s economy in another key way.

One of the critical planks of the initiative is to improve the availability of funding for new companies looking to enter the life sciences industry in Virginia. As those new companies become established, especially medical device and pharmaceutical companies, they will need expertise in polymer science and access to the analytical instrumentation that’s needed to characterize the polymers they’ll use in their products.

Polymers are already important to the life sciences industry, and play a key role in some of the most exciting innovations. They’re used in sutures, mesh, pins, plates, tacks, screws, catheters and adhesives that are inserted or implanted in the body either temporarily or permanently. Polymers are used to coat metal medical devices to improve their bio-compatibility, and to coat cells that are injected into the body for cell therapy.

Bioabsorbable polymers are used to carry sustained-release drugs like immune-suppressants, steroids or hormones into the body. Polymer nanoparticles can be used as carriers for injected drugs or antibodies, directing them to the targeted organs or tissues. Sometimes, the polymer itself is the active ingredient in the drug. Polymers are also a trusted material for packaging and delivery devices for pharmaceuticals and the process equipment used in making drugs and devices.

In all these applications, proper characterization of the polymer is essential for understanding and predicting how the material will interact with a drug product and behave in the human body — properties that directly affect the safety and efficacy of treatment. Polymer testing can help life sciences companies address questions and concerns about extractables and leachables, residual monomers, plasticizers, antioxidants, UV stabilizers and photoinitiators that can all migrate from the polymer into the body or drug. With testing, we can evaluate important characteristics such as molecular weight distribution, chemical composition, thermal and physical composition, residual monomer and residual solvent content, drug loading and particle size distribution.

VA Bio says “this plan fits Virginia,” and we agree. By bringing together all the stakeholders in the state’s life sciences industry, the initiative can help our state grow its economy, add jobs and live up to our rich history of discovery and innovation.