Biotech Firms Develop Where Star Scientists Worked, Study Shows

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Most biotechnology firms created during the 1980s were developed near the scientists who made the initial discoveries underlying the technology, new research shows.

The study identified the top researchers in the biotechnology field in 1980 and the location of leading biotech firms in 1990. The findings showed that the firms were clustered around the universities and institutes where the scientists worked 10 years earlier.

These results show the value of science in stimulating the local economy, said Marilynn Brewer, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“The biotech industry is a testament to the value of basic scientific research,” Brewer said. “The growth of the industry depended heavily on the scientists who worked in the field and the firms grew where the scientists were located.”

While the results may not seem surprising, economic theory suggests that innovations -- like those in biotechnology -- can be freely used by anyone with access to the right financing and knowledge. However, Brewer said, this study shows that the scientists involved in biotechnology research were crucial in ensuring that the technology made the leap from laboratories to business.

Brewer conducted the study with Lynne Zucker, a professor of sociology, and Michael Darby, a professor of management, both at UCLA. Their research appears in a recent issue of The American Economic Review.

Advances in biotechnology have transformed the pharmaceutical industry by allowing creation of novel drugs and treatments. Biotechnology has also been used extensively in the food processing and agriculture industries, among others.

For this study, the researchers identified 327 “star” scientists in the biotechnology field based on their outstanding productivity through 1990. The primary criterion was the discovery of 40 or more genetic sequences -- the building

Contact: Marilynn Brewer
(614) 292-9640
Ohio State University

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