SAN FRANCISCO—Renewed strength in the financial markets and key product approvals are driving a restrained sense of optimism at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference here in California.

Global industry revenues for public companies grew from $39.7 billion to $46.5 billion last year, and net losses improved by 65%, dropping to $4.5 billion from $12.8 billion, according to Ernst & Young's 18th annual industry report.

Overall, industry employment grew 9% to more than 200,000, said Donn Szaro, Ernst & Young's global health sciences director. "We recognize the importance biotech has for the US economy and the global economy now," he said.

Szaro said the aging of the Baby Boom generation and pressure on governments to reduce costs will continue to make biotech a critical part of the healthcare delivery system. "It is no longer just the research arm," he said.

The number of publicly held companies dropped slightly from...

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