Biotech's Leslie Wisner-Lynch
Leslie Wisner-Lynch, DDS, DMSc, hesitated only briefly when asked in a recent VNC interview whether it's true she picked Nashville as the new home for BioMimetic Therapeutics, thus setting in motion the company's move here from Long Island in 2000.
Pressed on her role in the relocation, Wisner-Lynch - who is director of applied research in the $188 million (market cap) company created by husband and CEO Sam Lynch - at first only discreetly thanked her husband for crediting her with the relocation, as he often does publicly.
A moment later, she added: "I will say the following: When we looked at where it made sense for BioMimetic to really call home," the opportunity to live closer to her family in Michigan, allowing the Lynches' children to know their relatives better, was a very important factor.
Then, in a footnote sure to warm the hearts of local industry recruiters, she explained that breaking the relocation news to BioMimetic's venture-capital investors, who were at that point reviewing a BioMimetic term sheet, was a delicate matter. However, she said, BioMimetic's budding relationship with Vanderbilt University, state and local government support and the area's livability were among factors that eased investors' minds.
However the decision actually came about, Wisner-Lynch's pro-technology influence seems to be growing still - even while Tennessee's biotech industry struggles to establish momentum and a friendlier environment for new ventures.
The industry backdrop against which Wisner-Lynch is working is a bit mottled: For example, former Tennessee Biotechnology Association (TBA) President Dennis Grimaud (left), now CEO of Diatherix Laboratories, has decried what he sees as the state's lack of "support" and "infrastructure" for biotechnology, a sector that doesn't produce "new jobs" as quickly as traditional industries.
In a recent interview with VNC, Grimaud praised Nashville's healthcare providers, research institutions and quality of life as regional competitive factors. He made clear, however, that he believes biotech development is stifled by Nashville investors' inappropriately applying healthcare-services metrics to biotech. He said that, while he hopes to see more synergies with the mainstream healthcare sector, thus far Middle Tennessee's biotech experience has too often been a story of opportunities "squandered." Grimaud's Diatherix maintains a Brentwood headquarters, but conducts its R&D in Alabama.
Nearly identical criticisms have been voiced by executives with such companies as BioDTech, which relocated from Nashville to Birmingham. Others have quietly voted with their feet, as in the case of Microarrays, which relocated not long ago from Nashville to Huntsville.
TBA Chairman and President Bob Acuff (right) recently told VNC that TBA recognizes the importance of being more aggressive in seeking understanding and support for biotech. Acuff said TBA hasn't done enough to educate members of the state's General Assembly. Acuff, who is a professor at East Tennessee State University, said that situation will be rectified during the legislature's next session, when TBA will implement an outreach program that is now being designed by TBA board members.
Asked to comment for this article on the increasingly public questioning of progress in biotechnology, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation President Eric Cromwell (at left) responded, in part, "...We believe state and local leaders understand the potential. If vision was all that was required, every state would be a leader in biotech. The challenge is to put together a viable plan to achieve transformational returns on a total investment of state stimulus, leveraged federal funding and private sector funding and leadership...
"We also think Nashville has a transformational opportunity," said Cromwell, "in leveraging the state's leading innovation cluster - healthcare services - to expand into other emerging industries... If we are ultimately successful, it will be a product of great innovation from our research institutions, the active engagement of the venture capital community, and the rise of an entrepreneurial class that is equal parts home grown and attracted to Tennessee from biotech epicenters on the coasts. If we do our jobs well, we will have made a strong case for state support and, most importantly, private sector leadership..."
In a separate interview, Wisner-Lynch's perspective seemed consistent with Cromwell's when she noted that the nation's "'hotbeds' of biotechnology were once upon a time just like us... it took many years for them to come to where they are today."
She also stressed "there are some really wonderful areas of research on-going and happening right here." However, she said, the region's "pockets" of activity are not yet linked via "coordinated and collaborative activity" that is essential to "translation of discovery to the marketplace." She noted that - as is true on campuses nationwide - the state's campus technology transfer initiatives must achieve improved collaboration with other stakeholders in order to accelerate tech commercialization.
Such state and regional collaboration are vital, she said, given how aggressively Alabama and other neighboring states are marketing their grants, facilities and infrastructure.
Wisner-Lynch is pursuing biotech advocacy from a strong vantage-point: While other Nashville companies may soon challenge the pecking-order, BioMimetic is arguably Middle Tennessee's greatest leverage for recognition as a player in the nation's biotechnology sector. In fact, although there are a few emerging biotech players elsewhere in the state, BioMimetic's steady corporate progress and top-management's engagement in tech-driven economic development initiatives that are centered in the state's capital seem to afford the company standing and influence that are probably unequalled, at this time.
Founded in 2001 by Sam Lynch (left), BioMimetic provides products that are combinations of drugs and medical devices for treatment of orthopedic, spine and sports injuries. BioMimetic's IPO was launched in May 2006 and the company is headquartered in the Cool Springs Life Sciences Center.
While CEO Lynch and BioMimetic's senior management team managed the growth of the company's operations, facilities and workforce, Virginia- and Harvard-educated Wisner-Lynch continues to champion innovation. She has proven her abililty to navigate in the realms of government, acadème and other institutions. She is a member of the boards of Cromwell's TTDC, Acuff's TBA and Mind2Marketplace, the Rutherford County-centered tech-commercialization initiative.
After more than two years' work, Wisner-Lynch recently launched via the BioTN Foundation (co-founded with her husband) a science- and technology-education initiative that is training 13 adults and three high-school students at Independence High School in Williamson County. The enrollees will receive 900 hours of instruction - including 300 hours working with industry - and will emerge prepared for jobs of varying sophistication in biotech, life sciences and healthcare services. ♦