“Virginia Tech is talking to large pharmaceutical firms about cooperating with the university on research projects and opening offices inside Roanoke’s new health care innovation district.
Michael Friedlander, founder of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a driving force behind the city’s growing health care industry, said that sort of partnership is only a concept, but affirmed that conversations are underway.
City Manager Chris Morrill said Roanoke currently doesn’t have a major pharmaceutical company. Landing one would be the kind of payoff that city and university officials promised when they unveiled grand plans for a new health care hub in March.
“That would be huge,” Morrill said. “It moves us closer to being that health science center on the east coast that we want to be.”
Speaking to a crowd of entrepreneurs at a Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council event on Thursday at The Inn at Virginia Tech, Friedlander said the university is in the middle of “at least three very active explorations” with the goals of partnering with pharmaceutical groups and convincing them to come to Roanoke.
Friedlander demurred when pressed after the event for details on these potential candidates, simply reassuring that “they’re big.”
“We’re having those kinds of conversations,” he said. “We’ll see where they go.”
While far from concrete, Roanoke’s pharmaceutical ambitions underscore the lofty goals attached to the so-called health sciences and technology innovation district.
But Friedlander’s vision for the hub, about a mile long and generally following South Jefferson Street between the Roanoke Public Library and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, is a lot bigger than one pharmaceutical company.
He said the goal is to have more startups spin out of Tech’s research labs. He wants more investors taking bets on local entrepreneurs, and more established companies opening offices in Tech’s backyard.
Friedlander said he’s not just pursuing drug researchers, but also medical device inventors, coders working on software and anyone else in health sciences and technology .
His hope, he said, is that companies will see the “intellectual value” of dropping their own researchers in the middle of a dense ecosystem, surrounded by others in the field.”