USD Discovery District leader: Sioux Falls can be nation’s next bioscience hub

July 22, 2020

This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.

The USD Discovery District hasn’t hit the pause button during the pandemic – instead, it has been actively focused on recruiting biotech companies, collaborating with industry and addressing workforce needs.

“We’re excited about several recent developments,” said Mark Brown, who became president of the 111-acre district in northwest Sioux Falls earlier this year.

Brown has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and has served as vice president for research and development at CBR International Corp., a biopharmaceutical company, and as executive lead for global health disparities for the Colorado School of Public Health.

He also has significant experience in higher education, including leading Colorado State University’s Institute for Teaching and Learning, its office of undergraduate research, office for service learning, office for scholarship and fellowship advising, and student engagement.

“I am convinced Sioux Falls can be the next pharmaceutical and bioscience hub in the country,” he told the Sioux Falls City Council this week.

“And by accomplishing that, we will help to stop the mass exodus of the pharmaceutical industry out of the U.S. and do our part to bring down the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs and therapies.”

The first step is to create a critical mass of the bioscience community, he said.

While COVID-19 caused a shift in the initial development plan for the Discovery District as anchor tenant SAB Biotherapeutics paused its building plan to focus on developing a therapeutic for the coronavirus, the district is planning for an additional project.

The new multitenant building is still in the early stages of development, but it’s planned to include a mix of bioscience companies, consulting firms and service providers, along with an indoor-outdoor venue that opens out to green space and a vendor that would offer breakfast and lunch, Brown said.

The Discovery District plans to work with a developer on the project and has started conceptual designs, he added.

“We’re in the process of conducting due diligence related to our roster of future tenants,” he said. “Although the first multitenant building will be largely occupied by local and regional bioscience tenants, we have begun recruiting a cluster of out-of-state tenants to nucleate a second multitenant building in order to build momentum and critical mass at the Discovery District.”

The first building could be done and occupied by early 2022, he said.

Tenants for the second building will be out-of-state prospects Brown is in a position to reach through his industry relationships.

“We have a number of tenants already interested,” he said. “The cost of doing business in our existing pharmaceutical hubs – San Diego, San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, even Austin and Boulder – it’s cost-prohibitive.”

Companies are looking for more affordable facilities where the cost of living and of doing business is more reasonable, he added.

With two clusters of bioscience tenants in place, the campus will be in an excellent position to draw in a contract development and manufacturing organization, or CDMO, Brown continued. That could be at least five years out but ultimately would bring hundreds of jobs, Brown said.

“This kind of service provider is the answer to a major bottleneck in the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “So with a CDMO on site, other bioscience and biotech companies are sure to follow. Having that kind of provider at the Discovery District is part of our vision for entering a rapid phase of growth and strategic expansion.”

The approach fits the needs of the biotech industry and takes advantages of strengths already found in South Dakota, said Joni Johnson, executive director of South Dakota Biotech.

“It’s encouraging to see the direction Mark and his team are moving in bringing together a lot of necessary elements for the Discovery District to succeed,” she said.

“We’re experiencing significant interest from players in our industry in considering expansion to South Dakota, so to have a development like this coming together could well be the right opportunity at the right time.”

The development also continues to anticipate a 32-acre project anchored by LifeScape, which would include $62 million in facilities with a school, hospital and rehabilitation center.

That project requires fundraising and could take several more years to come to fruition. In the meantime, though, the Discovery District already is developing programs to complement the relationship.

It’s in the process of launching an internship program for USD biomedical engineering students at LifeScape’s “ChopShop,” its design and development operation for creating custom wheelchairs and equipment to meet patients’ needs.

The Discovery District recognized the intellectual property and potential for patenting and licensing as a future source of revenue, Brown said.

The interns will train on the design and manufacture of custom equipment for medically complex patients, and they will go through the process of invention disclosures, preliminary patents and, in some cases, filing patents and licensing designs. It’s a rare, one-of-a-kind experience for the students, he said.

“The significance of providing that service for the patients of LifeScape will be career-defining for many of those students. And the service provided to LifeScape, combined with the potential revenue stream it will generate to support LifeScape, make this a major win-win for our community.”

In addition, the Discovery District is partnering with academic programs at USD to develop opportunities for training the next generation of bioscience and biodefense leaders, he added.

That includes new industry internships programs in biomedical engineering and will pave the way for bringing more of that field to Sioux Falls. Those include doctorate-level interns who will work on a project involving development and commercialization of mobile quarantine, hospital and manufacturing facilities. Other interns will work with startups, the Food and Drug Administration and biopharmaceutical consulting firms directly on industry projects, supported by the Engineering Information Foundation and National Science Foundation.

“Our ultimate goal, in this regard, is to curb the recent exodus of the bioscience industry from the U.S. and to help create the right economic and workforce conditions necessary to bring more of that industry to South Dakota,” Brown said.

“I’m convinced we can do it here if our stakeholders remain committed to this. We’ll get there.”

To learn more about the USD Discovery District, click here.

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USD Discovery District leader: Sioux Falls can be nation’s next bioscience hub

The USD Discovery District’s leader is taking steps to achieve a vision he says can make Sioux Falls “the next pharmaceutical and bioscience hub in the country.”

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