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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 5, 2005

Life sciences hold promise for Hawai'i

Some encouraging news for Hawai'i's economy emerged this past week.

A report by Enterprise Honolulu and the newly formed Hawaii Life Sciences Council, compiled with the help of folks from business, government and academia, pegs Hawai'i as a major player in the life sciences industry.

Life sciences, of course, include a burgeoning biotech industry, which clearly holds much promise for our economic future. This was underscored last week by news that 'Aiea-based Hawaii Biotech Inc. plans to develop a vaccine that would protect native Hawaiian birds against the deadly West Nile virus.

An important part of this new industry includes being sensitive to Native Hawaiian cultural interests, and rightly so. That must mean ensuring that Native Hawaiian community leaders are involved and engaged in plotting a new economic future in the Islands.

So far, the signs are encouraging. For instance, the Royal Order of Kamehameha is working with the council and recently formed a bioethics panel to explore potentials and problems.

But our economic promise goes beyond just biotech.

The report also notes that Hawai'i's rich biological and ethnic diversity and our proximity to Asia make us uniquely well-positioned for such things as cutting-edge cancer and infectious-disease research and drug development.

Equally as encouraging is that a vibrant life sciences industry should result in quality, higher-paying jobs for our residents, with fewer of our best and brightest having to seek careers on the Mainland.

Now it's up to Hawai'i to get things in place or risk losing its place in a competitive global market. That means retooling state regulatory processes to support life sciences, and eliminating outdated policies that fail to encourage progress in that regard.

There's also an opportunity to build on research funded by the military that offers multiple applications, not only for defense purposes, but also for scientific, environmental and other civilian uses.

In our schools, including the University of Hawai'i, curriculum and workforce development must focus on meeting emerging needs in the life sciences, technology and related fields.

Attracting venture capital to help fund these efforts is key. The governor and the Legislature can start by creating appropriate incentives to make that happen, an opportunity that was bypassed this past session.

Clearly, as this report shows, the collaboration is there — from government, to business to the military and academia.

Now the challenge will be to work even harder to ensure we don't lose momentum.