In 2013, the state’s government teamed up with Indiana-based biotech companies and university officials to unveil the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI), what organizers call the first industry-led collaborative life sciences research institute of its kind in the country.
Since then, the IBRI has been busy raising funds and hiring a management team to get the institute up and running, although organizers are unsure exactly when the IBRI will be operating at full speed. It took six months to raise the first $50 million, which came from corporate and philanthropic funders, along with an appropriation from the Indiana General Assembly.
Earlier this year, Eli Lilly ponied up another $10 million to fund the development of the IBRI, and the institute closed on a deal with the city of Indianapolis for 20 acres in the heart of 16Tech, an innovation district set up to support entrepreneurs, researchers, students, and faculty in the discovery, development, and commercialization of life sciences technologies.The IBRI will serve as the centerpiece project of the public-private BioCrossroads collaboration, and is expected to draw world-class scientific leaders and biotech research dollars to Indiana, while focusing on developing innovative health technologies.
The latest personnel move by the IBRI came earlier this week, when it announced it hired Rainer Fischer as its chief scientific and innovation officer. Fischer comes to the job with extensive scientific leadership experience, most recently serving as the senior executive director of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME). The Fraunhofer is the largest applied science research organization in Europe, and it addresses issues of health, security, production technology, energy, materials, and the environment. Fischer will officially begin his tenure at IBRI on April 1, 2017.
Fischer has spent the past 19 years building the Fraunhofer IME across Germany, in addition to its subsidiaries in New Jersey, Delaware, and Chile. During this time, he grew the IME Institute from 40 to 680 employees, raised almost one billion euro in research funding, and established international collaborations with academia and industry in more than 25 countries. Those collaborations are with many of the leading global companies in the biotech, pharmaceutical, agriculture, food, and chemical industries.
Fischer is also a serial entrepreneur. He has co-founded five biotechnology startups, holds 40 patents, and has another 64 patent applications pending.
Fischer said what appealed to him about the IBRI job was the chance to work even more closely with industry partners. “The opportunities are very fruitful and it’s a stimulating environment,” he said. “I feel very comfortable here.”
David Broecker, the IBRI’s president and CEO, said the institute plans a “dual leadership model,” in which Fischer and Broecker co-lead the program. Because the IBRI is financially supported by industry stakeholders, it’s not meant to be an academic spinout, he said. “More deliberately, we want to serve as a catalyst between universities and industry under the Fraunhofer model.”
Fischer, who has a background in molecular biology, said he’s especially interested in Indiana’s strengths in the sub-sectors of agricultural science and genome editing, and how they can be adopted in the realm of big pharma. “I’m also a big fan of single-cell technologies, small molecule drug discovery, stem cell technology, and IT.”
Indiana’s strengths in both agriculture and bioengineering give it advantages compared to the coasts or Silicon Valley, Broecker added. “Indiana has one big company for every life sciences sub-sector: Eli Lilly, Roche Diagnostics, Dow AgroSciences, and Cook Medical, just to name a few. We’re right in the middle of world-leading innovative companies and none are in direct competition with each other. It creates a unique environment.”
Both Fischer and Broecker said that it’s too early to discuss future plans for the IBRI in detail, but Fischer’s hire represents a big step forward.
“You only get one chance to hire a franchise player, and we want to build our team around him,” Broecker said of Fischer. “Now we need to develop a more specific strategic plan. Dr. Fischer has to get through a big transition phase first, because we want him to leave the other organizations he works with in good standing.”
The IBRI plans to announce two or three specific areas of focus later this year.