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New York Institutions, VCs Team up to Build Drug Discovery “Bridge”

Xconomy New York — 

[Updated, 11:10 a.m. ET, see below] New York biotech has historically lagged behind more established life sciences hubs like Boston and San Francisco, but collaborations between its research institutions have helped the city start to move forward. Another step in that direction was taken this morning, with the launch of what’s being called Bridge Medicines.

Bridge is a drug discovery company formed via a partnership between two local venture firms (Bay City Capital, Deerfield Management), three research centers (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Medicine), and one pharmaceutical company (Takeda).

Sloan Kettering, Rockefeller, Weill Cornell, and Takeda have teamed up before, to create what’s known as the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute in 2013. The institute joined principal investigators with chemists from Takeda to help move promising lab projects forward, across the gap in early drug development often termed the “valley of death.”

About 50 early stage drug discovery projects have emerged form that work, in fields such as infectious disease, cancer, neuroscience, and rare diseases. (Two projects include drugs for tuberculosis and the rare disease Niemann-Pick type C.) Now research projects from the Tri-I can “graduate” to Bridge, where they’d be handed off to an experienced team of venture capitalists and drug development executives that can move them forward toward commercialization.

Bridge says its VCs will help create the business and scientific development plans for these drug prospects, and fund them to the point that they’re ready for clinical trials. Once the drugs get to that point, Bridge would then work with scientists to form startups that will own each of these individuals projects and take them forward.  The idea is that these companies will be based in New York City.

“Bridge Medicines’ mission is to increase the odds of successfully developing novel therapeutics to meet the needs of patients while simultaneously helping to build a vibrant biotechnology sector in New York City,” said Mike Foley, the director of the Tri-I, in a statement.

The news is welcome for a New York biotech scene that needed a jolt. The last five years have seen a group of collaborative initiatives, the launch of a few incubators, the formation of a group of high-profile startups, and the influx of biotech investors like Versant Ventures, Accelerator Corp., Flagship Ventures, and Arch Venture Partners. But momentum has slowed of late, and leadership changes at several institutions and life science-supporting entities in Manhattan have left the city without a unifying voice. Additionally, the city’s ever-present lab space problem remains largely unchanged, an issue that will become even more significant should some of Manhattan’s new biotech startups—like those that could come from Bridge—survive and grow. Without larger space for those companies to step into, they’ll likely leave for other, more established hubs.

[Updated w/ comment from NewYorkBio] Still, it’s been collaboration—the city’s institutions working together, rather than competing with one another—that has helped drive New York biotech forward. The Tri-I is one such example. The New York Genome Center is another. For the city to really maximize its biotech potential, more such initiatives are needed. Bridge is a good step.

“What is most exciting to me about this announcement is that there is real money attached to it,” said Nathan Tinker, the executive director of NewYorkBio, in an e-mail to Xconomy. “Deerfield, Bay City, and Takeda means there will be active engagement by investors with skin in the game. There is therefore a greater incentive to drive science toward the market here in New York.”

Photo courtesy of Ankur Agrawal via a Creative Commons license.