Therapeutic Dose: Carolina Dreaming

As evidenced by the proliferation of pharmaceutical R&D and manufacturing facilities in Research Triangle Park and the Piedmont Triad, people go where the science and opportunity are.

By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor

Every so often you visit a place and wish you lived there. I felt that way on a recent trip to the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. Genuine people. Nice climate. Gentle, sprawling hills. Wouldn’t it be nice to pull up roots and . . . I had Carolina on my mind.

I’m not the only one. North Carolina has that allure. Plenty of the pharmaceutical industry’s top talent is moving to the Research Triangle Park, and increasingly to places like the Piedmont Triad — the area in and around Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point — as well as Charlotte, Asheville and the coast.

If they can stand the humidity, what’s to keep upwardly mobile chemists, biologists and IT whizzes from going to Carolina? If they happen to like golf or Moravian spice cookies (the “world’s thinnest”), all the more reason.

“I’ve never lost a job candidate yet because he or she didn’t want to move here,” says Dr. Adnan Mjalli, president and CEO of High Point drug discovery company TransTech Pharma. After starting TransTech on his own five years ago, Mjalli has persuaded dozens of young, and not-so-young, professionals from all over the globe to call the Triad home. Walk the labs and offices of TransTech and you’ll find a true melting pot of pharmaceutical talent. “People go where the science and opportunity are,” Mjalli says.


In the fickle world of pharma,
past results don’t
guarantee future success.
Talent that is now plentiful
could dry up.

As it does young professionals, North Carolina is also beckoning young pharma and biotech companies like TransTech — first for R&D, and increasingly for commercial manufacturing. The Triad, for instance, is selling itself as a biotech hub with a big heart, high quality of life and sparkling, accessible airport. Wake Forest University is putting its weight behind a new research park in Winston-Salem that is expected to become the largest such “urban” park in the country.

Two hours west down Interstate 40, tucked into a fold in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits Baxter Healthcare Inc.’s North Cove facility, which manufactures IV products that are shipped to hospitals worldwide. Baxter is the largest manufacturer in western North Carolina, and the only pharmaceutical presence for miles around.

If the RTP and Piedmont Triad represent the new paradigm of the pharmaceutical industry, North Cove, built in 1972, symbolizes the old — when site locations were chosen not by their proximity to research centers and manufacturing hotbeds, but by their distance from them and their abundance of good, willing workers. Call it offshoring without going offshore.

The key to success at North Cove has been its commitment to local communities and its ability to cultivate talent. Leadership and good people were behind improvements that led to North Cove’s Value Stream team taking home an American Society for Quality Team Excellence Award this year, and the facility’s 1-L IV Solutions team earning a Bronze Team of the Year award (Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, April 2005, p. 16).

Success has many faces. Facilities like TransTech and Baxter North Cove prove that statement. But in the fickle world of pharma, past results don’t guarantee future success. Talent that is now plentiful could dry up.

“We can’t only rely on bringing in people from the outside,” says TransTech’s Mjalli. “Young people here are going to have to start to take an interest.”

The key to continued success at North Cove and the pharmaceutical industry in the Carolinas will be holding on to the best and brightest and maintaining the influx from the outside. It will also require convincing youngsters in high school and college that, yes, chemistry and biology can be fun, hip and lucrative, and that if they work hard, they too could be living the dream.

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