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Versant Walks Biotech “High Line” With a New Manhattan Incubator

Xconomy New York — 

Versant Ventures is about to launch its latest biotech incubator. And it’s picked the emerging New York life sciences scene as its home.

This morning, Versant, the San Francisco Bay Area VC firm, is announcing the formation of what’s being called “Highline Therapeutics.” Named after the elevated walkway and park that runs along the lower west side of Manhattan, Highline will be Versant’s third biotech incubator. Its office, in fact, will be a few avenues away from the actual High Line: in Chelsea, on 21st St. and 6th Ave.

“We felt like we had to at least be in the general vicinity of it,” says Carlo Rizzuto, a Long Island native who will run Highline. He previously headed Versant’s European headquarters in Switzerland. (In case you’re wondering, he’s not related to famous Yankee shortstop Phil “the Scooter” Rizzuto.)

Versant’s incubators aren’t incubators in the traditional sense. They’re not co-working spaces for startups. Rather, as my colleague Alex Lash has written, Versant has used them as regional outposts to work directly with academic institutions and create small, nimble biotechs—companies often created around a single drug with a prearranged buyer. The other two of these incubator-like entities are Inception Sciences, of San Diego, Vancouver, and Montreal; and Blueline Biosciences of Toronto.

In similar fashion, Highline will work with the city’s big research institutions to create new companies that will take two forms. Some will be spinouts of academic research that is what Rizzuto calls “company ready.” One such startup that could be announced soon, for instance, is the result of a collaboration between Versant and Columbia University professor Brent Stockwell.

Highline aims to do one to two of these deals per year.

The second type of effort will center around research in even earlier stages that needs translational funding—which would come from Versant—to see whether it’s worth turning into a company. Versant is already doing this type of work with Weill Cornell Medical College, Rizzuto says, and is in advanced talks to do something similar with NYU. Highline should do 4 to 5 of these projects each year, he adds.

With Highline, Versant also wants to tap into academic centers south of Boston in places like Connecticut (Yale University), Pennsylvania (UPenn), and Maryland (Johns Hopkins University).

But the incubator will remain New York-centric, which is a big deal for the area. I’ve written extensively about the past and current struggles of the Big Apple’s life sciences scene. It has been hamstrung by academic institutions’ formerly combative mindset, a dearth of biotech VC funding, and the seemingly never-ending struggle to secure and develop affordable lab space.

But the past few years have brought change and new initiatives. For example, The New York Genome Center and Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute were formed in 2013 via collaborations between a number of the region’s institutions.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. formed a $150 million life sciences fund with the help of local companies, government agencies, and VC firms Flagship Ventures and Arch Venture Partners. The NYCEDC also has a separate … Next Page »

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