Amid Leadership Changes, NY Biotech Braces For its “Pivotal Moment”

Xconomy New York — 

Over the past five years, the narrative has changed for life sciences in New York. Biotech investors are, at long last, on the ground in the city looking for deals. High-profile startups have emerged. Yet the city’s biotech leaders know there are still challenges ahead.

“This is a pivotal moment,” said Susan Solomon, the CEO of the nonprofit New York Stem Cell Foundation.

Solomon was speaking at the annual meeting of the trade organization NewYorkBio. There was optimism throughout the meeting, but caution as well. First, the optimism. There is no denying the progress that has been made in New York: a number of collaborative efforts are underway to move scientific research forward. Venture firms like Versant Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, and Flagship Ventures (backing the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s life sciences fund), and company creator Accelerator Corp. are operating in Manhattan. Versant and Accelerator have already formed startups, and word at the meeting was the NYCEDC’s fund could be making an announcement soon as well. Tech transfer officers say they’re getting the kind of traffic, and bidding competitions, they never did a few years ago. For the first time, the meeting included a “pitch fest” competition between 33 startups.

“We’ve been working at this for a long time,” said Rockefeller University associate vice president Kathleen Denis, “and our reward finally came in 2015.”

Some numbers to support that statement were provided in a panel discussion between Denis and tech transfer executives from Columbia University (Ofra Weinberger), NYU Langonne Medical Center (Abram Goldfinger), and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Sybil Lombillo). Between the 13 institutions that compose the New York Academic Consortium—from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx to Stony Brook University in Long Island—-the number of startups to emerge each year has doubled between 2013 and 2015 from 37 to 73. Columbia formed 17 companies two years ago, said Weinberger; last year it was 27. NYU Langonne was doing five or six startups a year in the mid 2000s, according to Goldfinger; in 2015 it was 13 and 15 or 16 are expected this year. The number of licensing deals jumped from 309 to 398 over the same timeframe, and the number of signed confidentiality agreements climbed from 1,414 to 1,829.

Yet amidst those good vibes, there’s a sense of caution and urgency, that New York can’t waste this moment. Real estate has been, and remains, the seemingly immovable object standing in the way of New York producing a productive startup biotech ecosystem. Entrepreneurs and tech transfer officers at the meeting continued to … Next Page »

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