Puerto Rico Aims to Be the Biotech Island

Lorna D. McLeod

November 1, 2008

4 Min Read

Our vision is to be the preferred partner for industry and academia for biotech training, research, and development in the American hemisphere by 2012.” That’s the vision statement of the Bioprocess Development and Training Complex (BDTC) in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, which opened 11 September 2008. The BDTC is the latest in a series of developments designed to make Puerto Rico “Bio Island,” the goal of Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila. As he described in a conversation with BPI at the 2008 BIO International Convention, unlike most biotech hubs that began with small start-up companies focused on R&D that evolved into drug development companies, Puerto Rico started with manufacturing capabilities that attracted some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. Now it hopes to become an innovation center too.

The island is home to an educated bilingual workforce and 40 years’ pharmaceutical manufacturing experience. Recent biotech investments include $800 million by Amgen, $450 million by Eli Lilly, and $350 million by Abbott Laboratories. Once operating, these projects will employ >1,200 people. In 2005, 15 of the top 20 prescription drugs sold in the United States were manufactured in Puerto Rico. The Island boasts 10% of total US manufacturing employment.

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), a government agency, assists companies interested in establishing operations on the island. PRIDCO can fast-track permits and other processes and offer placement assistance: It is the largest owner of industrial real estate on the island, with 25,000,000 ft2 with 1,500,000 ft2 available for rent. PRIDCO continues to support established companies through assigned representatives who visit facilities and help iron out issues that arise.

PRIDCO’s website states, “Puerto Rico offers the tax advantages of being offshore with the safety and quality of life of staying home; you can enjoy the benefits of operating within a US jurisdiction, with the added tax benefits of operating under a foreign tax structure.” Puerto Rico’s value proposition combines financial and operational advantages that include a US dollar and banking system but no US federal income tax, a local corporate income tax rate of 2-7%, a US legal and customs system including intellectual property protection, and easy access to US mainland markets. Biotech companies may qualify for “pioneer” status for an income tax rate of =2%.


Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila visits the BDTC. ()

The island has spent billions of dollars to ensure a world-class infrastructure that includes a 100% digital-switching telecommunications network; 92 satellites that connect Puerto Rico with the world; the western hemisphere’s seventh busiest container port (in San Juan); 40 shipping lines providing service to 80 domestic and foreign ports; international and regional airports with ∼4,300 cargo flights per month; a system of highways and superhighways that ensure no location is more than two hours from an airport or seaport; and 5,359 MW of diversified electrical generating capacity. Puerto Rico also has a full range of contract service providers for everything from packaging and labels to validation.

The BDTC, an autonomous nonprofit corporation, offers biotechnology education and training and bioprocess development and technical support, aiming to foster innovation through research and development. Its new facility includes a training center and multiple bioprocess R&D laboratories for microbial and mammalian cell culture, purification development, bioanalytical, and cell bank labs. Capabilities include fermentation, cell culture, protein purification, and biomolecular characterization.

The BDTC wants to provide services that include training for new employees and displaced workers, incubator space and R&D assistance for start-ups, R&D collaborations with academia, bioprocess development contracting services, and rental space for other activities. The BDTC says it will serve as an R&D incubator for private/academic institutions, with new projects to benefit from generating data outside their facilities. It is already collaborating with a team from Johns Hopkins University in a project sponsored by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust (PRST&RT), and collaborations with other academic teams are under discussion.

According to PRIDCO, Puerto Rican universities graduate ∼9,000 bilingual students each year with degrees in science, engineering, and technology. That places the Island ninth in the United States in engineering degrees awarded. Puerto Rico trails only Japan in the fewest number of days lost to labor disputes per manufacturing employee, and its wage rates are typically 20-30% lower than those on the US mainland. Wage and training grants are available along with both US federal and local training programs. For more information, visit www.biotechpr.org.

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