Jobs in life sciences grew 5% in state

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer November 20, 2010 

Jobs in the life sciences sector in Washington grew 5 percent from 2007-09 while other sectors dropped by 4 percent, said Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

Leaders in the life sciences fields from the Tri-Cities met with representatives of the association Friday in Richland to discuss challenges and plans to grow the life sciences industry in the Tri-Cities.

Leaders of two Tri-City companies said they will be hiring more workers as their businesses expand, contributing to the trend that makes the life sciences sector one of the fastest growing in the state.

Wages pay double that of the other industry, Rivera said.

The state has strong research capabilities, including the Department of Energy's national laboratory in Richland, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The lab is able to attract significant amounts of National Institutes of Health research money because of the cutting edge technology it can apply to bio-medical problems, said Karin Rodland, chief scientist for biomedical research.

Areas of strength include proteomics, which can be applied to early detection of cancer; systems biology, which is the foundation of new trends toward personalized medicine; and toxicology, which will be important as nanotechnology changes the way manufacturing is done and drugs are delivered within the body.

The real benefit to the state's economy from life sciences research comes when a new company is formed to commercialize the technology, although the vast majority of new technologies are licensed to large companies, said Thomas Clement, director of New Ventures -- Life Sciences, for the University of Washington Center for Commercialization.

Advanced Medical Isotope Corp. of Kennewick is working on commercializing a new way to treat cancers with radiation using technology developed by PNNL and the University of Utah, said Jim Katzaroff, chief executive of the company.

Researchers have developed a way to use the radioactive isotope yttrium 90 to deliver radiation by surgically implanting seeds holding the isotope into tumors. Yttrium 90 has characteristics that make it a good radiation source for killing cancer cells, but it cannot be delivered in metal seeds as some other medical isotopes are.

Instead, a fast-dissolving polymer has been developed to be used in place of metal. The result is a potential cancer treatment that's less expensive, has more effective radiation and provides less hazard to hospital workers, said Darrell Fisher, leader of the isotopes sciences program at PNNL.

Advanced Medical Isotope Corp. also is making plans to produce molybdenum 99, an isotope that is used to produce isotopes widely used in medical imaging.

As the company grows it expects to hire 50 to 100 new employees in the next two to three years, Katzaroff, said.

Cadwell Laboratories, of Kennewick, which produces medical devices, has more immediate expansion plans, said founder Carl Cadwell. It plans to introduce a new take-home sleep study product in January.

The company is growing enough that it is planning to construct a new building for research and expects to add 30 to 50 employees in 2011, Cadwell said.

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