10 Takeaways From New York’s Life Science Disruptors

3/10/14Follow @benthefidler

Disruption can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s an activist trying to shake up a board. Other times it’s a group of local leaders hell-bent on reshaping a city’s life science culture. It might even come in the form of an executive forced to ax 90 percent of a company’s workforce and move it halfway across the country to survive.

Those were just some of the things people learned last night at our latest biotech event, “New York’s Life Science Disruptors.” The packed house at the Apella Event Space at the Alexandria Center for Life Science yesterday got a candid, in-depth look at some radical perspectives from three sectors of the biotech ecosystem: academics, investors, and company executives—as part of a group of wide-ranging discussions. How is New York positioning itself to take a big leap in stature among the country’s biotech clusters? Where does an activist biotech investor put his cash in a raging bull market? And what in the world was in NPS Pharmaceuticals’s (NASDAQ: NPSP) old headquarters in Utah? Those, and many more questions were answered in what was a lively night on the East Side of Manhattan.

Big thanks to our speakers and moderators: Rockefeller University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne; Eric Schadt of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology; Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) senior vice president of business development George Golumbeski; NPS Pharma CEO Francois Nader (Golumbeski and Nader pictured above, left to right); Sarissa Capital Management founding partner Alex Denner: Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR) CEO Ron Cohen; and Bloomberg biotech reporter Meg Tirrell. Thanks also to Alexandria Real Estate Equities, our event host, and our sponsors: Halloran Consulting Group, and Guard Dog Brand Development.

And of course a special thank you to Hana & LaCruz for the photos.

With that, here are some of my takeaways:

1) “We didn’t have the same kind of ferment, the same kind of attention. That attention is there now.” When the biotech industry began springing up a few decades ago, space was too expensive in New York and there just wasn’t a focus on it. Companies instead took root in Boston and California, spawning other companies, and eventually clusters, in the other big biotech hubs on the East and West Coast. Tessier-Lavigne says that’s now all changing. The city wants to capitalize on its research power, and there are several government, real estate, academic, startup-based, and funding initiatives to show for it. Among them: The New York Genome Center, the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, the Alexandria Center, the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s new $100 million life sciences fund, Harlem Biospace (Manhattan’s first biotech startup incubator). The challenge is to change this statistic: despite New York accounting for the second-highest total of NIH funding grants, the VC investment per NIH dollar is somewhere between “1/10th to 1/15th what it is in Boston or California. “We need to build out the full ecosystem,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “But with the appropriate will, and with the assets that we have I think that we can really help the sector take off in a big way.”

From left: Cohen, Schadt, and Tessier-Lavigne

From left: Ron Cohen, Eric Schadt, and Marc Tessier-Lavigne

2) While VC money is lacking, research funding, and opportunities in genomics, aren’t. Eric Schadt noted that one of the big reasons he left the West Coast for New York is because of the access to capital from untraditional sources. Philanthropy in New York “is pretty amazing,” he said, also noting the vast number clinical assets at the city’s institutions. Schadt sees New York’s biggest biotech opportunity as the chance to become one of the leaders in using genomic data to change how medicine is practiced. “New York has the right kind of base to enable that transformation if the right kinds of people like [Tessier-Lavigne] and others like the New York Genome Center can come and connect those dots,” he says.

3) New York has a history of competition among its research centers. But that’s changing. Cohen noted that in the past, there really wasn’t a culture of … Next Page »

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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