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Harvard Unveils $15M Life Lab to House Biotech and Medical Startups

Xconomy Boston — 

The next Kendall Square just might be located in Allston.

The gritty Boston neighborhood, across the Charles from Harvard University’s main campus, is the site of various construction projects aimed at building up an innovation epicenter over the next five to 10 years. Just don’t tell Jodi Goldstein about the Kendall comparison.

Goldstein (pictured), the head of the Harvard Innovation Lab, believes the neighborhood will become a hub that’s broader in terms of sectors and talent than Kendall Square. At least the Kendall of today, which is dominated by biotech and pharmaceuticals.

But the i-lab’s latest expansion will unquestionably make it look more like Kendall. The institution is opening what it’s calling the Harvard Life Lab this fall, right next to the original i-lab on Western Avenue. The 15,000-square-foot facility will provide wet lab space and offices for about 25 to 30 young life sciences startups. Each must have a Harvard student, alum, or faculty member on its founding team.

The goal is to help new biotech or medical-device ventures get to the Series A funding stage more quickly than they might otherwise, Goldstein says. She anticipates most teams will stay for roughly 18 months.

LabCentral, a Kendall Square biotech co-working facility, will serve as an operating partner for the Life Lab. For a lab bench, office space, and access to equipment, rent will be $2,500 a month, which is roughly half the going rate for wet labs, Goldstein says. Such facilities are used by companies and researchers working with chemicals, drugs, or other materials that require special ventilation systems and utilities.

The overall price tag on the Life Lab is $15 million-plus, Goldstein says. That’s as compared to about $25 million for the Harvard Innovation Lab to date.

The selection process for Life Lab tenants is going on now. The selection committee is a mix of local leaders: they include Alan Crane of Polaris Partners, Mark Fishman from Novartis, Johannes Fruehauf of LabCentral, Jennifer Lewis of Harvard and Voxel8, and Srikant Datar, the Harvard faculty chair of the i-lab.

Goldstein is not directly involved in the selection process, but she says decisions will be “based on the future potential and impact” of the teams. “We’re looking at big ideas that will have enormous impact on the world,” she says.

Given last week’s announcement of the Genome Project-Write, an ambitious plan hatched by scientists at Harvard and elsewhere to create synthetic human genomes, I asked if one might wind up being created in Allston. Goldstein notes that three teams out of Harvard geneticist George Church’s lab (he’s one of the project’s leaders) have applied to the Life Lab.

The new facility is being built in modular units, Goldstein says, and the construction is actually taking place in Amish country, Pennsylvania. The pieces are being assembled there and will be trucked to Allston this summer, she says. That allows other site work to go on in parallel in the open space next to the i-lab, which used to be a bigger parking lot.

The Harvard i-lab opened in 2011 and expanded with its Launch Lab space in 2014, to support Harvard alumni companies. Goldstein talked last year about also starting an i-lab fund to support startups. But she says that project has stalled. (Perhaps it got bogged down in bureaucracy, as university-based funds are wont to do.)

Meantime, there is plenty to do to make the i-lab and the area around it more of a breeding ground for new collaborations and startups. “We have the real estate—there are acres and acres to develop,” Goldstein says. “We’re seeding the ecosystem.”

Harvard Life Lab site in Allston