New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen said it best: “It’s about creating what I call a ‘New York gestalt’ around life sciences.” Showing that New York biotech can rise above its problems, become greater than the sum of its currently disparate parts, and create a brand that ranks up there with Wall Street, the theater, or Silicon Alley.
Glen, addressing the throng of attendees at Xconomy’s New York Life Sciences 2021 last week, was referring to an ambitious plan by New York City government called “LifeSci NYC.” The goal, via a series of targeted investments, tax incentives, and startup and entrepreneurial support mechanisms, is to finally break the shackles that have held New York biotech back and re-brand the city as a life sciences center. Its wealth of academic institutions, financial power and diverse population notwithstanding, New York’s life sciences scene is dwarfed by the biotech beehives in Boston and San Francisco. Though it is consistently near the top every year in NIH funding, New York is far behind those hubs in VC investments for life science companies.
As Versant Ventures partner Carlo Rizzuto pointed out, there may have been more venture-backed biotech startups formed in the last 18 months in New York than the rest of the city’s history combined—but there is much work to be done. New York is at a tipping point, he said, and there are “a lot of things that could send us the wrong way.”
But there is optimism about the future, a “palpable” excitement, he said, in part because the city and state governments last week vowed to put a total of $1.15 billion into New York biotech through two different initiatives. Though there has been momentum in New York biotech before, the two plans—LifeSci by the city, and a separate, complementary $650 million initiative by Governor Andrew Cuomo—show that the state is now taking biotech seriously. It’s not the afterthought it once was. The progress made over the next five years is critical, however: By 2021, will venture-backed biotechs finally have places in Manhattan to take root and grow? If they do, will they stay and succeed? Will the city have built the planned Applied Life Science Campus, a connective hub viewed as the linchpin to LifeSci NYC? What can members of the community do to maximize the chance that has been presented here, and continue the momentum?
“It’s great to throw some money at a problem but, we all know—there are 5,000 biotech companies in America and most of them won’t amount to anything,” said George Yancopoulos, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. “It all boils down to incredible, special, talented people, and those people are incredibly rare.”
These topics and more were part of a spirited discussion last week at the Alexandria Center for Life Science on Manhattan’s East Side led by Rizzuto, Yancopoulos, and two other local New York biotech leaders: Judy Dunn, head of Roche’s Manhattan-based Innovation Center; and Jeremy Levin, CEO of Ovid Therapeutics. A big thank you to them, Deputy Mayor Glen, to the attendees that packed the house despite a frigid New York night, and to our event host Alexandria, whose CEO Joel Marcus kicked things off. Thanks also to our sponsors Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and The Rockefeller University, and to Keith Spiro of Keith Spiro Photography for the photos.
We’re sharing some of those photos in a slideshow today to give you a taste of the festivities. Hope you enjoy them—see you next year, New York.