Biotech in New York: Scientists and Entrepreneurs Gather to Banter About the City’s Challenges and Opportunities

4/8/11Follow @arleneweintraub

The 20th annual meeting of the New York Biotechnology Association (NYBA) kicked off on April 6 with a panel called “The Global Struggle for the Biopharmaceutical Industry: New York Must Step Up Its Game!” Nathan Tinker, executive director of the NYBA and the panel’s moderator, joked to the gathering crowd at the Marriott Marquis in midtown Manhattan that “there was no controversy at all” to the panel’s “unassuming title.”

In fact, that title expressed perfectly the confluence of themes that emerged at the lively, two-day gathering of NYC-area biotech executives, venture capitalists, and scientists. On the one hand, New York’s biotech CEOs are proud of their association with the city that’s home to pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, and dozens of top-notch academic institutions and hospitals. But on the other hand, they’re quick to acknowledge the challenges that have landed New York state a perennial third-place ranking in biotech, behind California and Massachusetts.

First, the good points of being a biotech in the Big Apple. Several government agencies are pouring millions of dollars into supporting biotech startups. Eva Cramer of the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, who spoke on Tinker’s panel, said government grants will allow her college to expand its biotech incubator from 38,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet. “Without the support of the state, we wouldn’t have even been able to build the facility,” she said.

City and state government agencies are starting to get better organized about supporting biotechs in New York. Making its debut at the conference was NY BioHud Valley, a new public-private partnership designed to bolster biotech companies in Westchester and other areas north of the city. The group handed out a map showing the 83 companies that are headquartered in the Hudson Valley. And during the keynote lunch, Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, lauded Pfizer for embracing NYC as the home of its new Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, which opened in January. It’s a sign, Pinsky said, “that we’ve arrived.”

Now for the negatives. Despite the millions in grants and other government support, New York has some of the highest business and personal tax rates in the country—a serious barrier to attracting top scientific talent. And some executives say the state doesn’t work very hard to woo … Next Page »

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