Georgia Medtech Industry Doing Just Peachy
When one thinks of medical device manufacturing hubs, California, Massachusetts, or Minnesota immediately come to mind. But the Southeast also lays claim to a burgeoning medtech industry, notably in growing pockets such as Georgia. In fact, between 2004 and 2005, the Peach State rose from the eighth largest to the seventh largest biotech center in the United States. No wonder: The state boasts prestigious research institutions and universities, government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, and a high quality of life.
In September 2008, Georgia Bio (Atlanta) and the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth (Athens, GA) reported that there are nearly 300 life sciences companies in Georgia employing more than 15,000 people and generating nearly $8 billion in annual sales. At the heart of it all is Atlanta, the state's capital and largest city. According to a January Site Selection report, the greater Atlanta area claims approximately 90 medical device companies. Two such local companies symbolize Georgia's rise to medtech prominence: Altea Therapeutics (Atlanta), which is developing a drug-delivery system that works through the skin via a small skin patch, and CardioMEMs (Atlanta), which produces implantable wireless pressure sensors that monitor the progress of diseases.
If Atlanta is at the core of the Peach State's medical device industry, the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta), or Georgia Tech, is at the core of Atlanta's capabilities. Much of the university's engineering expertise supports the development of wireless monitoring of biological information. As part of the university's efforts in this area, researchers have been involved in testing methods to help reduce potential interference from ubiquitous electronic article surveillance (EAS) and radio-frequency identification systems, which can affect the performance of wireless implanted medical devices. Georgia Tech's EAS/Medical Device E3 Test Center helps manufacturers improve the compatibility between implantable devices and systems that radiate electromagnetic energy. "Although the center initially tested pacemakers and defibrillators, today it conducts research on a variety of medical devices including implantable hearing devices, drug-infusion pumps, neurostimulators, cardiac monitors and glucose monitors," according to a 2006 Georgia Tech report. And because patients may use more than one medical device, the center has been evaluating possible interactions between different types of devices, such as bone-healing stimulators and implanted cardiac devices.
Although most of Georgia's medical device manufacturing industry is located in the greater Atlanta area, other significant clusters are found in Athens and Augusta. At the other end of the scale are a host of start-ups, many of which are emerging from Georgia's major universities, including the University of Georgia (Athens). The institution generates an average of about three start-ups annually and has created 106 companies since 1974, about 65% of which still exist, according to Margaret Dahl, the university's director of research development and technology alliances and director of business and economic development at its Georgia BioBusiness Center. She notes that the state has an array of assets that promote the industry, such as the Georgia Research Alliance, the Life Science Seed Fund, and the Life Science Facilities Fund.
Supporting Georgia's commitment to developing a life sciences and medical device technologies sector are also a host of organizations, such as Georgia Bio's Medical Device Committee (Atlanta), which supports the development of medical device companies from initial concept to commercialization. Other organizations include Southeast Bio (Atlanta), a nonprofit organization that promotes entrepreneurship and brings together companies, investors, and universities; the Life Sciences Business Development Center and Innovation Center at the Medical College of Georgia (Augusta), a business incubator that supports entrepreneurs by providing wet lab and office space, equipment, access to campus resources, and business counseling; and the Southeastern Medical Device Association (Norcross, GA), a nonprofit trade association that supports device companies, inventors, physicians, and investors interested in promoting the medical device industry in the Southeast.
Venture capital also plays a significant role in the medtech community. Currently, Georgia ranks 12th in the United States in the amount of venture capital invested in biotech companies, according to the Site Selection report. While several industry experts remark that the Georgia medtech industry suffers from a lack of venture capital--including local capital--and a paucity of well-trained personnel, the medical device sector is attractive to investors because device startups typically mature faster than most other life sciences start-ups. As a result, they can be acquired more quickly. In addition, the time from invention to commercialization is much shorter in the medical device area than in the pharmaceutical and biotech areas.
Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, remarks that a new tax credit for start-up companies will help encourage entrepreneurship. "We have the wealth available in Georgia, and we are working to be more like Silicon Valley and Boston in terms of making capital available," he states.