ACC adding biotech lab, which may boost Austin economy

Feb 6, 2015
Austin American Statesman

Austin Community College is adding a critical piece to support Central Texas’ biotechnology industry and Austin’s future medical school

Today, regional leaders will celebrate receipt of a $4.96 million state grant that will fund a combination accelerator/wetlab space to address a shortage of regulated lab space for companies while training the next generation of biotech workers

ACC is the only community college in Texas to receive an Emerging Technology Fund grant and the only one that will have such a facility. As much as 8,400 square feet will be renovated at ACC’s Highland campus for a lab with the plumbing, ventilation and equipment to allow experimentation with chemicals, drugs or biological materials

A public-private partnership, including the Texas Life-Sciences Collaboration Center in Georgetown, the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) at the University of Texas and the city of Georgetown, added more than $13 million in matching funds

“Our goal in Central Texas is to integrate medical education, health care, innovation and research for the 21st Century,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “The ongoing story is we keep advancing on that front.”

A 2012 study by ATI showed that the region needed 60,000 square feet of wet lab space just to meet the demand of current companies

ACC President Richard Rhodes said the need for regulated lab space is likely to explode when the Dell Medical School admits its first class next year

ACC’s revenue bonds are paying for the construction, which could take up to two years. But the grant’s immediate impact will be the purchase of specialized equipment for regulated lab space at Texas Life-Sciences in Georgetown. Tenants are already lined up

Five years ago, ACC faculty and students began working with start-ups at the Georgetown facility

“We realized that by working together we were making a difference on the bottom lines of those companies,” said Linnea Fletcher, chair of ACC’s Biotechnology Department. “The best place for a student to gain hands-on experience is working with a start-up”

That collaboration birthed the idea of locating a wetlab — capable of manufacturing biotech products — at ACC’s Highland campus

The manufacturing capability could keep more companies and their jobs in Central Texas

“Right now, many biotech start-ups are forced to turn elsewhere because Austin doesn’t have the facilities they need,” said Tom Kowalski, president of the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute

He said research shows that meeting those needs could add more than 1,000 new jobs and make an economic impact of $100 million a year

ACC’s five-year grant was one of the last awarded by former Gov. Rick Perry, whose term ended Jan. 20. There is a ceremony at 8 a.m. Friday at ACC’s Highland campus to celebrate the grant

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