Tom Maniatis, Molecular Biology Pioneer, Seeks to Help Build a Kendall Square in NYC

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immediately as first-rate. “In terms of the diversity between academic and medical science, New York is better than Boston,” he says, citing the work at Columbia, Rockefeller, Weill Cornell, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NYU, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

What New York lacks, he says, is anything like Boston’s hub of entrepreneurship and venture capital that creates up-and-coming startups like Acceleron and Constellation. “Those companies are in midst of Kendall Square with such incredible vitality and activity. There’s nothing in New York that’s comparable,” Maniatis says.

Some history is required to explain this. Back when the biotech industry was just getting started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, MIT already had a longstanding culture of supporting scientific and engineering entrepreneurship, Maniatis says. The institute, in the heart of Kendall Square, also happened to own a lot of nearby real estate, and there was plenty of other cheap and available land just blocks away, including lots of run-down warehouses. “They (MIT) promoted biotech. They built and leased buildings. They really played an important role,” Maniatis says.

New York’s academic institutions in those days, Maniatis says, didn’t have the same interest in turning basic science into applied science. Real estate was a lot more pricey, and crowded in New York, too. There was not an incubator where fledgling companies could start in New York, he says. It put the Big Apple years behind, he says.

The Alexandria Center for Life Science (formerly known as the East River Science Park) has long been considered one of the important missing pieces in New York. Maniatis says he’s personally been disappointed because the state-of-the-art lab space is largely being filled up by a Big Pharma company (Eli Lilly), and academic labs for NYU.

“It didn’t turn out to be the center they were hoping for,” Maniatis says. “It didn’t really attract new startups.” One exception is Kadmon, the startup led by former ImClone CEO Sam Waksal.

Of course, not many places anywhere (even Kendall Square) have been spawning new startups since the financial meltdown of September 2008. And biotech startups, by their nature, take a long time to prove whether they pan out or not.

So Maniatis says he’s turned some his attention to ways he thinks can help foster more biotech startups. One of the potentially important pieces is … Next Page »

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