Catalyst Conversations: Rachel Hurley, Executive Director of the Iowa Biotech Association

Catalyst Conversations: Rachel Hurley, Executive Director of the Iowa Biotech Association

04.01.11 | By Kate Connors

Rachel Hurley is the Executive Director of the Iowa Biotech Association and a partner of Innovate Iowa, a public-private partnership that includes senior leaders from biotech, academia, business, health and other organizations interested in growing Iowa's bioscience economy with a specific focus on advancing medical innovation. The Catalyst caught up with Rachel to learn more about her role with Innovate Iowa and her ongoing efforts to promote medical innovation across the state.

Q. Tell us a bit more about your background.

I was most recently the Director of Legislative Relations in the office of the Michigan Attorney General where I helped develop numerous statewide initiatives, including and the nationally recognized Michigan Cyber Safety (CSI) Initiative which focused on teaching kids about Internet safety. To date, that program has reached over 600,000 K-8 students. I received my law degree from the Michigan State University College of Law and a B.A. in business administration from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.

Q. Iowa is known primarily for its agricultural industry. How does health care fit in?

fYour readers might be surprised to learn about the diversity and translational research in the state as it relates to human health. For example, Iowa's One Health Initiative is a movement to forge co-equal collaborations between physicians, osteopaths, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and other science-health disciplines. The University of Iowa and Iowa State University have recognized that their core competencies lend themselves well to focusing on the "One Health" model especially as it relates to infectious diseases. Recently, prominent research firm Battelle spent numerous hours interviewing Iowa Biotech leaders, holding focus groups and visiting Iowa colleges and universities. The findings of the report show that Iowa has 4 key technology platforms that show significant strengths and opportunities for economic growth and job creation: a Bioeconomy Platform - focus on biomass; "One-Health" Infectious Disease Platform - human and animal; Personalized Medicine Platform - genomic information; and Advanced Food Platform - functional foods and nutraceuticals.

Q. What is your sales pitch for new investment?

In 2007-2008, the national bioscience sector increased its job base by 1.4 percent compared to 4.5 percent in Iowa. In addition to solid growth, bioscience jobs are high-value, high-wage positions. In 2008, the average annual wage paid by the bioscience sector in Iowa was $60,833 - more than $24,000 or 67 percent above that paid on average in the Iowa private sector ($36,359). The opportunities in this field are very much real.

Q. How do you continue to build on this momentum?

It's a timely question. In putting together its report, Battelle outlined four strategies that must be developed. First, it's clear that we must Invest aggressively to build Iowa's bioscience R&D enterprise while also incentivizing innovators to develop cures, treatments and technologies of the future. Second, where appropriate, we must take risks. Building Iowa's risk capital market helps us do this. Third, Iowa cannot be competitive in the long-term if we don't take steps to cultivate our next generation of innovators (science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is key). Finally, we need to create a business climate that supports growth and expansion across the biosciences. It's the only way we'll be able to innovate 10, 20, 30 years from now.

Q. What stands to get in the way?

It's clear we need a strong public policy and regulatory framework in order to drive investment. Iowa is setting an example. Now it's up to policymakers at the state and federal levels to make this a top priority.

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