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Pharma Follows as the CROs Fly

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SOURCE North Carolina Biotechnology Center

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., June 17, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Contract research organizations aren't what they used to be. But they are where they used to be: in North Carolina.

North Carolina reigns, after more than three decades of growth and change in the industry, as the CRO epicenter of the world. It's just one of the state's successes featured at next week's BIO International Convention in San Diego.

The story really got rolling in February 1982 from a trailer parked on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dennis Gillings, London born and newly minted as a UNC biostatistics professor, and fellow faculty member Gary Koch worked from the trailer, using their data skills to help pharmaceutical companies pinpoint and overcome problems with drugs.

They saw it as a potential business. So they co-founded Quintiles. A few years later, Gillings resigned his faculty post to build what is now the largest provider of biopharmaceutical development and commercial outsourcing services in the world. After he gave $50 million to UNC, the university named its School of Global Public Health for him.

Then, in 1985, Fred Eshelman founded a pharmaceutical consulting business called Pharmaceutical Product Development, operated from his Maryland home. After a year the UNC alum returned to his beloved Tar Heel state. He moved PPD to Wilmington, N.C., and the rest is history.

Now PPD is also a global giant, and UNC's pharmacy school is the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, thanks to Eshelman's $20 million donation in 2003. In 2011 two private equity firms ponied up $3.9 billion in cash to buy PPD. Eshelman founded Furiex Pharmaceuticals, then sold it to Forest Labs in April for nearly $1.5 billion.

Today North Carolina is home to 128 CRO companies employing over 21,000 people within the state and tens of thousands around the world.

They range from the large multi-nationals to a full complement of small, targeted CROs, many the result of churn in the industry and North Carolina's entrepreneurial spirit that puts it in the top tier of life science clusters.

The Association of Clinical Research Organizations, the main U.S. trade association, says the CRO industry generated $21.6 billion in 2013 revenue, and should hit $23.6 billion this year.

For more information, visit the North Carolina pavilion at BIO, booth #1727.

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