Five Questions for BioUtah’s Kelvyn Cullimore
Kelvyn Cullimore was named president and CEO of BioUtah in September 2018, after having cofounded medical device manufacturer Dynatronics Corporation and serving as the first mayor of Cottonwood Heights. We caught up with him recently to talk about what’s happening in the Utah life sciences industry.
What’s the scope of Utah’s life sciences industry, especially when seen in a national context?
There are approximately 600 manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and research companies based here, as well as another 300 to 400 companies in distribution and related fields. This represents a direct workforce of 43,000.
Nationally the top tier life sciences markets are generally believed to be Boston, San Diego, the Bay Area, Minneapolis, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. The Wasatch Front is solidly in the second tier of the industry, along with places like Seattle, Austin, Atlanta, and Chicago.
What’s notable is we are the fastest-growing in terms of job growth. From 2012 to 2016 we led the nation, and there’s no sign of that pace letting up. You can see this at the individual company level, with big expansions taking place in the Utah operations of Stryker, Polarity, BD, and Merit Medical, to name a few.
In all of the country’s life sciences centers, it’s a tight labor market. What Utah has demonstrated in recent years is we can absorb these jobs and attract new talent from out of state.
Utah has long been known as a hot bed for medical device companies. What’s happening in this space?
Here in Utah, Becton Dickinson manufactures about 35-40 percent of the safety peripheral IV catheters used worldwide. Merit Medical is a billion-dollar, homegrown company with global operations that’s headquartered in the city of South Jordan. Edwards Lifesciences’ operations in Draper have expanded several times in the last decade. Fresenius has a big operation in Ogden, and GE Healthcare is adding 68 jobs in Logan over the next five years. Stryker came here in 2011 and has expanded to three times its original Utah workforce. In the midrange, you see similar stories with Dynatronics, Clinical Innovations, Utah Medical, and others.
All these companies have expanded here because of the benefits of doing business in Utah.
What about other sub-sections of the industry like pharmaceuticals? How is Utah performing?
One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world – Teva Pharmaceutical Industries – has significant operations in Salt Lake City. And Sumitomo, another giant, has invested in Tolero Pharmaceuticals in Lehi. Some really progressive drug development is happening at Recursion Pharmaceuticals in Salt Lake City. They are using artificial intelligence to greatly speed up the testing of new drugs, and they recently closed on a $120 million Series C investment round.
Generic drugs can offer margins nearly as high as drugs under patent, but the manufacturing start-up costs are high and the market can experience shortages as a result. So it caught people’s attention in 2018, when Intermountain Healthcare, the Mayo Clinic, and other health systems stood up the Civica Rx non-profit to manufacture generic drugs. Civica is headquartered in Lehi.
Civica recently delivered its first antibiotic and has another in the works, and there are plans and funding to expand that to 50 drugs in ten years. The primary goals for IHC are to lower costs and reduce shortages for the IHC hospital system.
You can’t understate the importance of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah’s pharma scene. The Institute is constantly working on drug development, new protocols, and clinical trials.
There are at least another 20 -30 drug development companies here actively working on various diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and HIV treatments. In other words, we have significant pharmaceutical manufacturing capability. All the major players are looking at what’s happening in Utah.
I would add diagnostics as another sub-section where we’re growing fast. Myriad Genetics and ARUP have long been in this space, and you’re seeing really rapid growth at places like BioFire Diagnostics, ProLung, ApolloDX, and Cibius which is working on a cure for swine flu. In addition, we have recently welcomed Renalytix AI who moved their renal diagnostic operations from NY to Utah. Their stock is publicly traded on the London Exchange.
What’s the role of higher education in Utah’s life sciences?
Our universities have been vital in fostering an atmosphere of innovation. BioFire, Recursion, and Myriad are examples of companies that originated in research conducted at the University of Utah. Celebrex and Cox 2 inhibitors are products that arose from Brigham Young University.
BYU and the UofU continue to crank out a lot of intellectual property, and they each have strong tech transfer departments that are well-connected with industry. Utah State University is also producing some interesting work in the agricultural and veterinary sciences as well as Biotech. They also have a strong tech transfer program. The universities are developing talent too, through the medical school, BioEngineering, and other life sciences departments.
I should also note that Salt Lake Community College, Davis Applied Technology College, and Utah Valley University are doing a great job in expanding the talent pipeline for manufacturing and other technical trades in our industry through the Custom Fit and other programs. These institutions have people like SLCC’s Beth Colosimo – She understands life sciences companies, knows their challenges, and will design a program to fill those needs.
BioUtah partnered with GOED and a number of Utah school districts to offer the Medical Innovations Pathways program, which offers specialized courses and practical work experience to help students develop the skills the industry needs.
Where does BioUtah fit in?
A strong and vibrant industry association is an indication of a healthy industry segment. We become the industry voice in matters of advocacy with local, state and federal government. We convene and educate. We support economic development specifically targeting our industry. When a company looks at expanding in Utah, we help them to connect to resources. We want to inform the investment community of the opportunities here in Utah. We’re working on making capital more available to our emerging companies, so we’re focused on bringing out-of-state investors to our annual summit and other events.
We’re constantly communicating Utah’s advantages. Relatively speaking, this market has cost advantages over any of the top-tier life sciences markets. We have world-class infrastructure in our international airport. Utah is business friendly and has an unmatched quality of life.
For more information, visit www.bioutah.org.