Best of the West: Regional biotechnology advancements; a virtual power plant; a geothermal neighborhood; making rural communities safer

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting September 12, 2022. (Photos courtesy of the National Cancer Institute via Unsplash, Jim Lane/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images, and KATU Portland) 

As biotechnology companies develop breakthrough treatments, the industry is on track to reach a net worth of $964 billion by 2027, according to an IMARC Group report.

The federal government is investing in the industry's growth with a $2 billion Executive Order to accelerate cancer research. Additionally, the funding will make the U.S. a competitive player in the global biotechnology industry by incentivizing companies to stay domestic — benefiting research already underway in the West.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded $49 million in grants to multiple research projects, including $16 million to ImmuneSensor Therapeutics Inc. for the development of a new drug, which was created by a University of Texas Southwestern scientist, to work with enzymes that trigger the body’s immune defense against cancers and infections. 

California’s late-stage biotechnology company, Orca Bio, is also expanding operations to bolster research. The company produces high-precision cell therapies for cancer treatment, genetic blood disorders, and autoimmune diseases. Its new 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility will support late-stage clinical development and commercialization of cell therapies.

Novome Biotechnologies, also out of California, recently raised $43.5 million to elevate treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. The company is testing genetically engineered microbe therapy to treat the chronic condition. 

InconOVir Bio, Inc., another California-based biotechnology company, is innovating oncolytic virus therapy to enhance therapeutics. The oncolytic virus platform addresses the limitations of first- and second-generation oncolytic viruses. Additionally, it provides personalized therapy for patients. 

Freeze Dry, an Oregon-based company, is testing products that could be an alternative to injectable vaccines and plans to produce them in bulk for a lower cost. The market could grow to $100 billion with the potential for Freeze Dry to manage 10% of the market. 

The U.S. Economic Development Administration is investing $1 billion to bolster the biotech sector and workforce to ensure that the industry is properly equipped to advance innovation. Oklahoma's Biotech Innovation Cluster and the Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility Corridor were among the 21 organizations chosen to receive funding. The Biotech Innovation Cluster will receive $35 million to invest in providing more support for startups and strengthening the biotech workforce development and education. Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility Corridor will receive $39 million to invest in advanced mobility, automation, and unmanned aerial systems. 

Virtual Power Plant: Rocky Mountain Power in Utah partnered with Germany-based  sonnen to launch the Wattsmart program, which can strengthen the power grid by paying customers to use batteries that function as a “virtual power plant." Batteries can store solar power during the day and consume it in the evening instead of “dumping surplus generation onto the grid for meager compensation.” Idaho adopted the concept this year, and the company is eyeing CaliforniaOregon, and Washington for its next expansions. 

Geothermal Neighborhood: A housing development in Texas is building a community of 7,500 homes atop a geothermal grid — the largest ever created for a residential community. Geothermal power can reduce energy consumption by up to 80%, saving consumers money long-term. Each home will also come with solar panels to prevent the system from shutting down if there’s a power failure. Additionally, homeowners can add a full home battery backup that stores solar energy for evening use. Find out more about Western Governors' work on geothermal development in Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ Chair Initiative, the Heat Beneath Our Feet.

Prioritizing Behavioral Health: Oregon is expanding access to behavioral health services with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The behavioral health investment allows the Oregon Health Authority to offer community-based stabilization services to individuals experiencing mental health or substance misuse crises. In 2019, an existing program called Cahoots in Eugene responded to 24,000 calls. “Oregon’s model for community-based mobile crisis intervention teams is centered on the value that a behavioral health crisis should be met with a behavioral health response,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said. “This investment will be a game changer for our state, enabling us to provide mental health services that will reach Oregonians in communities across the state and that are culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate.” Read about Western Governors’ bipartisan efforts to bolster behavioral health resources

Integrating Community Needs: An economic development project more than 10 years in the making will begin in Washington this month. With a limited amount of land available to meet community needs, the town of Mount Vernon, Washington, designed a multi-purpose building that integrates those needs into one energy-efficient building. Amenities include a public library, a meeting space for 300 people, a commercial kitchen, a parking garage, 76 electric vehicle chargers, and nine e-bike charging stations. The $53 million plan is one of the county’s largest public projects ever. “We needed to combine all of the needs that we have in one project, for efficiency …This just made so much sense to us,” Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said. 

Helping Rural Communities: The University of South Dakota (USD) and Agtegra, a grain and agronomy cooperative, are partnering to create a “ditch kit” to improve emergency health care response in rural areas. Communities will receive equipment and medical training from professionals, hoping that individuals might want to pursue emergency training further. The experience also provides medical students at USD interested in working in rural communities the opportunity to gain knowledge from firsthand experience and observation. Learn about Western Governors’ policy to improve rural health care

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