Mike Foley, a drug industry veteran and director of the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, has a pointed message for the New York life sciences industry: Don’t waste the moment.
Changing the course of New York biotech has been a saga that dates back to the 1990s, and as Xconomy has detailed, progress has been made in recent years with collaborative initiatives, government programs, new venture firms, and more lab space for startups. Significant hurdles remain, but Foley, speaking at Xconomy’s “New York Biotech Seizes the Momentum” last week, tried to beat back any defeatist notion that they are insurmountable.
“This is the moment in history to capture the talent, capture the innovation, and do it in a massively capital efficient way,” he said. “It’s shame on us if we blow it.”
Foley gave attendees one of several different perspectives on the state of New York biotech, the challenges that lie ahead, and what people can take from some of the successes seen so far. A few tidbits:
—Celmatix CEO Piraye Beim said the financing environment has evolved. She “literally couch surfed for a year and a half” trying to get the seed money to start Celmatix, a women’s health startup, years ago because the angel investors she needed were in Silicon Valley, not New York. “That’s different now,” she said. “You have people who are here now who have brought that culture of angel investing to New York city.”
—Giving an update on the $150 million NYCEDC biotech fund that Flagship Pioneering co-manages, Flagship principal Jason Park said while the fund was originally meant to be a “seed-type fund,” his firm plans to put the cash into “one or two transformational companies” rather than spread small dollars around into more than a dozen. The NYCEDC told Xconomy earlier this year that the fund is looking to make its first investments by the end of 2017.
—Many years ago when he was the president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Harold Varmus helped advocate for New York biotech, and his efforts helped lead to the Alexandria Center for Life Science, which opened in 2010. Varmus is now advocating in a different role, co-chairing the advisory council for LifeSci NYC, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s $500 million plan to spur biotech in the city. The council is now formed, had its first meeting on May 5, and is just starting to work through its plan.
Varmus said the group is helping to “refine” some of the plans the mayor has laid out, like forming new business and science committees to help identify opportunities for growth, and figuring out the fate of the NYCEDC’s proposed $100 million biotech campus—itself a source of much debate given academic institutions are spread across New York City. “It’s not so easy to say this is the place where things should be developing, because you can’t make somebody happy without making somebody else unhappy,” Varmus said. “The advisory committee that we chair doesn’t have all the answers, but we have a lot of good people.”
These were just a few small takeaways, and there are more insights in the pictures above, courtesy of Keith Spiro Photography, which we hope you enjoy. In the meantime, we wanted to give a special thanks to all of our attendees for the strong turnout, our speakers, our event host Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and our sponsors WuXi AppTec, Eastman Cooke Construction, JLL, and NYU Langone Medical Center.
Thanks for making this all possible and see you again soon, New York.