Vicki Sato, a longtime Boston biotech entrepreneur, laid out a challenge for New York life sciences in 2018. “Stop being an initiative,” she said. “Start being a player.”
Sato, addressing the throng of attendees at Xconomy’s “New York Biotech: The Future Is Now” conference last week, has skin in the game. She’s now co-chairing an advisory council, along with Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, that steers a $500 million New York City government-backed plan to spur biotech progress in New York City (LifeSci NYC). The plan dovetails with a $650 million initiative to similarly advance the prospects of New York biotech statewide. It’s all part of a concerted effort to put New York in the same breath as biotech hubs in Boston and San Francisco—but there is still a long road ahead before that is a reality.
Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced their respective plans a day apart in December 2016, but it’s been relatively quiet on the New York biotech front since. The year has just about come and gone with few, if any, high-profile startup funding announcements, begging the question of whether biotech momentum has slowed in the Big Apple, and what can tangibly be done next year to turn it around. The area needs “a number of really noteworthy, breakthrough startup companies,” said Erik Lium, the senior vice president of Mount Sinai Innovation Partners.
Where there has been progress in 2017 is unlocking new lab space for startups—a long-running problem in New York. Taconic Investment Partners and Silverstein Properties, announced plans to put $20 million into the “Hudson Research Center,” a life sciences facility being developed on the West Side. Alexandria Real Estate Equities debuted LaunchLabs with 13 startups in tow, and another biotech incubator, BioLabs New York, officially opened last week with four startups in the fold. A third, JLabs, is expected to open at the New York Genome Center in 2018.
These facilities all represent important steps forward in creating a pipeline of new biotech companies in New York. But they don’t move the needle among Big Pharma: “Prove me wrong and create the likes of a major community,” challenged Barbara Dalton, VP of Venture Capital at Pfizer. And incubators don’t solve the problem of how to keep startups in New York after they grow up. For example, BlueRock Therapeutics, a startup that raised a massive $225 million funding round in December 2016, has a presence in both New York and Toronto, and still hasn’t decided which of those two hubs it will commit to as it progresses, said BlueRock VP of corporate development and strategy Eric Soller. “If we’re going to be players, keeping players here is really important,” he said.
These topics and more were part of a spirited discussion last week at the Alexandria Center for Life Science on Manhattan’s East Side, led by Sato, Lium, Dalton, and Soller. A big thank you to them, the attendees that packed the house, and to our event host Alexandria Real Estate Equities. Thanks also to our sponsors Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and RSM, and to Kevin Kane Photography for the photos.
We’re sharing some of those photos in a slideshow today to give you a taste of the festivities. Hope you enjoy them—happy holidays and see you next year, New York.