12:00 AM
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May 29, 2014
 |  BC Innovations  |  Strategy

New York's biotech beginnings

New York has long produced top science but has struggled to retain and develop its own innovations. The city says it hopes a flurry of public-private partnerships, real estate developments and high-profile academic appointments will help establish it as a biotech hub. But VCs say New York will have to produce or attract experienced management in order to persuade them to seed local companies.

Unlike the translational hubs in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston that sprouted spontaneously, the interest in New York is the result of city policies to grow the biotech industry in the region.

Maria Gotsch, president and CEO of the Partnership Fund for New York City, told SciBX that the desire to promote biotech dates to the early 2000s, as leaders of several city institutions noticed a mismatch between the amount and quality of life sciences research and the number of companies being created.

Gotsch noted that New York City contains nine of the country's top medical centers, and the state ranks in the top three for NIH awards. However, until recently, the majority of biotech innovations from many top New York institutions were used to launch companies in other cities.

"Keeping commercialization of biomedical sciences in New York is a problem we've been working on for the last decade," Gotsch told SciBX. "In the early days, a VC would fly in, go along First Avenue, stand outside Rockefeller and bring three things: a CEO, a bag of cash and a moving van to take it somewhere else."

There were myriad reasons that academic innovations ended up elsewhere, including insufficient lab space, a dearth of commercial interest and a lack of biotech-focused venture firms.

In the last four years, New York has addressed the first two issues by finding space and money for new labs and creating several significant early stage partnerships between academia and industry. By recruiting academic leaders with industry experience and launching commercially focused translational programs, the city hopes to attract venture funding and create a biotech ecosystem.

Landing biotech

According to Gotsch, one of the key challenges to starting companies in New York was the limited availability of affordable real estate for building wet labs.

"There was a disconnect between the academic science quality and the amount of land space," she said.

In 2003, she noted that Boston and New York received similar amounts of NIH funding-about $1.5 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively. At the time, she said, Boston had more than 12 million square feet in commercial lab space, whereas New York had only about 120,000.

That obstacle has largely been addressed, Gotsch said, with the opening in the last four years of the Alexandria Center for Life Science, the Harlem Biospace incubator and the BioBAT at the Brooklyn Army Terminal.

The Alexandria Center is a 15-story commercial facility with laboratory and office space located on 3.5 acres of city-owned land in Manhattan between Bellevue Hospital and New York University.

Eli Lilly and Co. signed up as the anchor tenant in 2010, and Roche inaugurated its Translational and Clinical Research Center (TCRC) in the Alexandria Center in October 2013.

Judith Dunn, global head of clinical development at Roche's Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED) unit, said that the company chose to set up in New York because it wanted access to external innovation via peer-to-peer interactions with teaching hospitals and medical schools.

The TCRC houses about 200 employees working on all aspects of development from drug discovery to regulatory science, and it serves as the U.S. operations base for the company's North American clinical trials.

Dunn said that in addition to the concentration and proximity of high-quality science, New...

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