Stay in the know with VTCRC news & happenings. Sign up for our email list.

Biotech incubator will help support region’s ongoing transformation into a contemporary biotech ecosystem.

When Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College opened 150 years ago in Blacksburg, the land-grant university became a center of mechanized farming innovation. The Roanoke Hospital Association’s founding 123 years ago represented a modern railroad city’s response to treating the injured and ill. The now 12-year partnership between their succeeding current institutions – Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic – has led to steps with other regional partners putting us squarely in the heart of serving others in “biology’s century.”

(Disclosure: Carilion is one of our approximately 2,500 donors but donors have no say in news decision; see our policy. You can be a donor.)

What’s the next step? We’re creating a biotechnology incubator encompassing the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center (VTCRC) in Blacksburg and the Roanoke Innovation Corridor. The incubator further connects the life sciences and technology to the foundation supporting the region’s ongoing transformation into a contemporary biotech ecosystem.

Since its inception in 1985, the VTCRC has hosted innovative Virginia Tech researchers in various industries seeking opportunities to grow their breakthroughs beside fellow entrepreneurs, including in biotechnology. Since 2010, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC has furthered the region’s growth as a biomedical research destination, attracting world-class researchers. Its researchers are investigating how to prevent, diagnose and treat disorders and cure diseases in people and companion animals while bringing more than $170 million in active research grants and hundreds of high-paying jobs to the community. 

Meanwhile, Carilion’s humble beginnings belie the sophisticated medical center it is today. The health system is a regional and national destination for world-class, pioneering physicians, scientists, nurses and therapists in cardiovascular care, gastroenterology and orthopaedics. And the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is preparing future physician thought leaders through inquiry, research and discovery in a patient-centered curriculum that’s positioned the medical school among the most competitive in the country. 

Together, Carilion and Virginia Tech form a burgeoning academic health center and collaborate in robust biotech ventures. 

But something was missing.

The missing link is lab space to accommodate the increasing number of biotech start-up businesses. Biotech innovators are ready to take their start-ups or existing businesses further. And labs are one element that can help invigorate their forward progress.

The region took a proactive step toward solving the lab space dilemma in December 2021. That’s when GO Virginia funds were approved to build labs at the VTCRC and design a more extensive lab in Roanoke. The VTCRC lab will support around 125 new biotech jobs over five years. We’re grateful to the 2022 General Assembly, which provided additional funding to create the Roanoke location for the biomedical research community. Carilion is donating the former Jefferson Plaza clinical building on Jefferson Street in the heart of the Roanoke Innovation Corridor. The new labs are being designed and will open in late 2024.

This building on Roanoke’s Jefferson Street will house shared lab space. Photo by Megan Schnabel.

The VTCRC and Roanoke labs will build on the established relationship among Carilion, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Johnson and Johnson, and its virtual residency program, JLABS. Early-stage innovators – Virginia Tech researchers, including those at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Carilion clinicians and scientists; medical school students and all levels of health sciences students  – will gain access to expert mentoring, programming and resources. They’ll enable innovative healthcare solutions imagined and created here to move closer to helping patients and consumers.

Step by step, we’re growing the life sciences sector, whose origins trace back to the founding of Virginia Tech and Carilion. We’re now planting even deeper roots in the biomedical research enterprise. You’ll hear soon from Carilion’s and Virginia Tech’s partners in the biotech incubator about how collaboration is instrumental to progress. 

This next step in the region’s 21st-century transformation has occurred deliberately, and many steps await the partnership. But there’s satisfaction in knowing we’re headed toward positioning the region as a center for future discoveries on the biotech horizon. 

There’s much to observe and imagine. The cures, therapies, and medications of tomorrow are being developed here, just steps outside our front doors. Join us as we envision what awaits in the steps ahead.

As originally published in Cardinal News