“A lot has changed since we broke ground 20 years ago." The company has watched as the Research Triangle Region’s life sciences cluster has risen to global prominence. “We’ve mirrored the growth of the life sciences community here overall. The state made an effort to build the cluster, and we’ve been one of the beneficiaries of that."
-- Steven Goldsmith, head of public affairs of Biogen
Biogen: 20 Years and Growing
It began in 1995 with two employees and a plan to produce a single drug for treating multiple sclerosis. Two decades later, Biogen’s presence in Research Triangle Park harnesses the talent of 1,400 employees and enables the manufacture of six different medications for MS and hemophilia. And with the recent acquisition of Eisai Pharmaceuticals’ 124-acre manufacturing campus on Davis Drive, Biogen is now one of RTP’s largest landowners.
The company’s importance also can be appreciated in two other facts: Biogen is the largest independent biotech company in North Carolina and is RTP’s 9th largest employer.
“A lot has changed since we broke ground 20 years ago,” says Steven Goldsmith, head of public affairs for the company, which was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. The company has watched as the Research Triangle Region’s life sciences cluster has risen to global prominence. “We’ve mirrored the growth of the life sciences community here overall,” he says. Supporting the region’s leadership were organizations like the Research Triangle Park Foundation and Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), as well as statewide strategies and institutions such as the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) at N.C. State’s Centennial Campus. “The state made an effort to build the cluster, and we’ve been one of the beneficiaries of that,” Goldsmith says.
One key result of those cluster development efforts has been a reliable supply of life sciences talent. Biogen’s success relates strongly to the quality of its scientists, engineers and other technical professionals. “Since our work here is centered around bio-manufacturing, we hire a large number of people in chemical engineering, biology, chemistry and other scientific disciplines,” says Goldsmith. One fact he cites speaks volumes of the company’s respect for the region’s graduates: Biogen’s 7,500-person global workforce includes more alumni of North Carolina State University than any other single institution. And this from a company founded and headquartered in the shadows of elite universities like Harvard and MIT.
In addition to its large scientific and manufacturing workforce, Biogen employs healthcare practitioners at its RTP operations. “We also have our Patient Services operations based here, which allows us to interact with patients and physicians,” Goldsmith says. That unit includes inbound and outbound call centers employing about 300, including pharmacists and other allied health professionals.
Biogen’s growth and success has rested on the Research Triangle Region’s unique biotechnology resources, says Goldsmith. “In order for our business to be successful here, we need a vibrant infrastructure that helps support the life sciences community – everything from physical infrastructure to the university and K-12 education systems that fuel our talent pipelines and provide an appealing place for our employees to raise their families,” he says. “Historically, the community has been strong here.”
In return, the company is eager to give back. “Part of our credo is that we care deeply, and we take that seriously,” Goldsmith says, “not just in terms of our patients and employees, but in how we interact with the community around us.” Biogen contributes generously to promote STEM education programs, for example, and it provides significant funding and voluntary leadership to both the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh and Durham’s Museum of Life and Science.
In October 2014, Biogen CEO George Scangos joined Governor Pat McCrory among the 75 elected officials, business and community leaders, students and teachers celebrating the opening of Biogen’s Community Lab at RTP. Based on a model Biogen pioneered in Cambridge, Mass., the Lab engages middle school and high school students through unique learning opportunities not found in a conventional classroom setting. The goal is to get young people thinking about STEM-related career options. Programs offered by the RTP Community Lab are free to students, with even the costs of transporting them to the lab offset by Biogen.
“Biogen’s Community Lab is a great model for how science-based companies can provide real-world experiments that closely align with our state’s science curriculum and workforce development goals,” said Sue Breckenridge, executive director of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, upon the opening of the Community Lab. “The company’s program provides both teacher development opportunities and classroom enrichment programs that are helping drive our goal of improving STEM achievement across the state.”
The company also takes seriously its vocal leadership role in appealing to keep the region’s assets, infrastructure and amenities sharp. “In partnership with RTRP and others we need to continue strongly advocating for those,” Goldsmith says. “Because we’ve been successful here we want to give back and help the next generation of companies prosper in this region as well.”
Biogen’s sponsorship of the annual State of the Research Triangle Region is another way it gives back to the community. In this instance, a yearly gathering of movers and shakers under one roof helps the region stay focused on its future. “What’s unique about the State of the Region meeting is that it is one of few occasions, if not the only occasion, for convening the entire spectrum of leadership – from business and educational leaders to elected officials from every community,” Goldsmith says. “It’s great that we have a chance to put all those people in one room and hear about the successes taking place across the region.”