South Louisiana is poised to grow its burgeoning biopharmaceutical sector, supported by an upgraded research facility at UL Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) and development of a biopharmaceutical manufacturing hub at the Progress Point Business Park in Iberia Parish.
Louisiana State legislators this year approved nearly $50 million in capital outlay funding for two projects led by the UL Lafayette NIRC. The first allocates $24.6 million to upgrade NIRC’s Bio-Safety Lab to a Level-3 facility, enabling more advanced on-site research. The second brings $22.4 million for a BioInnovation Process and Manufacturing Accelerator to Progress Point Business Park, located along U.S. 90 between Acadiana Regional Airport and the Port of Iberia.
Partnerships laid the groundwork for this significant investment heading to Iberia Parish (County).
“It takes hard work by a lot of people who share the same vision of economic success for a community to get to where we are today,” said Mike Tarantino, President & CEO of Iberia Industrial Development Foundation (IDF).
IDF works to grow industry sectors that can benefit from Iberia’s unique assets, including the 45-acre Progress Point. In 2018, IDF and One Acadiana (1A) worked to prepare the site for opportunities just like this one through 1A’s Site Development Program. The organizations had the property certified through Louisiana Economic Development’s (LED) Certified Site Program, ensuring due diligence so prospective tenants know what the property offers.
“IDF saw the potential and moved swiftly to prime the property for development. This would not have been possible without Iberia Economic Development Authority and Cleco, who partnered with IDF and 1A to fund the site certification. We all shared the same vision for the immense possibilities at Progress Point.”
– Mike Tarantino, President & CEO of Iberia Industrial Development Foundation (IDF)
This collaboration proved fruitful when UL Lafayette made plans to enhance capabilities at NIRC, one of the largest primate labs in the U.S. NIRC’s Bio Safety Level-2 Lab was instrumental in the early development and testing of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, but a Level-3 facility would have allowed the vaccine to become available much sooner.
“We’ll be able to take our already world-class infectious disease research to the next level with a Level-3 Lab, with the ability to manufacture these life-saving vaccines and therapeutics in Acadiana rather than in China” said Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, VP of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at UL Lafayette. “And we’re fortunate that Iberia Parish is home to an ideal site for drug manufacturing and our BioInnovation Accelerator just minutes from our research facility. We are grateful for the support of Governor Edwards, and the vision of Acadiana’s legislative delegation and parish officials in making this strategic investment.”
Acadiana legislators have risen to key leadership roles at the Capitol, with the influence to secure the needed State funding for these projects. In addition to being home to Senate President Page Cortez, Acadiana is also home to Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee Chair Bret Allain and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Stuart Bishop. All three were instrumental in ensuring these projects were included in the capital outlay bill.
“Supporting this investment was a win-win, enhancing UL’s academic portfolio and opening the door for hundreds of jobs in Iberia Parish,” said State Rep. Beau Beaullieu, Vice Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which leads capital outlay negotiations in the House. “UL is an invaluable asset to the state, and I’m proud that partnerships in our community are setting this and other projects up for success right here in Acadiana.”
Photos courtesy of University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Plans for innovation don’t stop there. The Acadiana Planning Commission (APC) and UL Lafayette have been working behind the scenes on plans to leverage both NIRC’s capabilities, once the Level-3 Lab is operational, and the BioInnovation Process and Manufacturing Accelerator at Progress Point Business Park. APC recently won a $500,000 federal grant to pursue a biopharmaceutical manufacturing cluster in Iberia Parish. UL Lafayette supplied $125,000 in match funding for the grant and is working with APC on a plan to attract biopharmaceutical manufacturers who can utilize NIRC’s future Level-3 lab for development and testing as well as the future Accelerator at Progress Point.
Securing this federal grant required a strong advocacy plan. APC took the lead in gathering parish presidents from around the region to support the grant application during a trip to Washington, DC earlier this year. Led by Iberia Parish President and APC Board President Larry Richard, the group met with federal officials to reinforce the value of investing in the project.
“I’m immeasurably grateful for my colleagues’ support,” Richard said. “You don’t always see this level of teamwork, and it means a lot that public officials throughout the region rallied around us. I’m also thankful that APC and UL are working closely on strategic investments in the region,” Richard continued, “We are proud of the groundbreaking research at NIRC and thrilled that UL is doubling down on their investment in Iberia Parish.”
In partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration and UL, the APC team is building market and industry strategies to ensure long-term success for the BioInnovation Process and Manufacturing Accelerator critical to building the bio-pharma industry in Acadiana.
– Monique Boulet, CEO of Acadiana Planning Commission
This is a perfect example of why 1A takes pride in our Site Development Program. We proactively put in the work to set South Louisiana up for success in attracting and supporting world-class projects. We couldn’t have been successful on Progress Point without IDF’s vision.
– Troy Wayman, President & CEO of One Acadiana
UL Lafayette is at the forefront of research impacting communities across the world, proven by their recent Carnegie R1 Designation. I was proud to shepherd this project through the capital outlay process, and I look forward to the possibilities created by this investment.
– State Rep. Stuart Bishop, Chair of House Ways and Means Committee