Debrief: Diane Fabel, Center for Biotechnology

The Center for Biotechnology's Diane Fabel: An explosion of innovation in the life sciences.

As honcho of the 30-year-old Center for Biotechnology – a catalyst for the development of biomedical technologies and companies located on the Stony Brook University campus – Diane Fabel wears many important hats: facilitator, organizer, manager, sometimes even referee. And since the center is the lead administrative organization behind the three-headed Long Island Bioscience Hub, uniting SBU and the Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National laboratories, she also plays a critical role in the development of Long Island’s innovation economy. In her words:

30 YEARS LATER: Over time, I think the center has moved from investing exclusively in commercially promising faculty research to co-investing with New York State in the development of promising technologies with commercial potential. About 15 years ago, the state also gave us an additional mandate for workforce training, so we have developed some fairly unique and intensive training programs that are preparing graduate students and post-doctorates for careers in biotech industries.

COMING TO LIFE: There’s just been an explosion of innovation in the life sciences, particularly on the biomedical side, over the last 15 years. Capitalizing on that innovation and on the new discoveries being made has opened up so many avenues for new therapeutics, new diagnostics, new preventative medicines and new medical devices.

CASH FLOWING: There’s been tremendous growth in the role biotechnology plays in the national economy. In recent years, we’ve seen a major expansion in biotech’s role across the state – in Buffalo, in Westchester, in Manhattan and of course on Long Island. You see more startup activity, but you also see a lot more investment than you used to.

PHARM TEAMS: I think the pharmaceutical industry has largely gotten out of the basic R&D activities and is now turning very much to academia and to emerging companies, that kind of early-stage innovation. They’re interested in forming partnerships earlier in the development cycle, and that fuels new strategic alliances and company formations that might not have happened otherwise.

THINKING AHEAD: While there’s a very long development timeline in biotech, all of this activity is a promising indication of where it’s all headed and what’s possible. One of the biggest hurdles will always be funding, so we’ve launched new programs to address the shortage of serial entrepreneurs on Long Island in the biotech sector.

UNIQUE APPROACH: For instance, we’ve launched a Bioentrepreneur in Residence program. Many entrepreneur-in-residence programs are mentoring programs where you bring in a senior executive-type to mentor a startup, which is great, but our model is different. We’re trying to create some critical mass, so our model brings in serial entrepreneurs to work with the startups, and provides [the entrepreneurs] with access to funding programs. They also have full staff support from the Bioscience Hub and the Center for Biotechnology, and these are senior people – PhDs who help them understand the due diligence required, flesh out the market for their technology, understand the competitive landscape, learn the reimbursement issues, understand the IP issues and begin to put together a substantive investor pitch.

RESOURCEFUL: We’ve had five Bioentrepreneurs in Residence in two years and five companies started. That’s a start, but we need to increase it by five-fold. The issue, of course, is resources. We’ve just received this National Institutes of Health designation, and part of the funding that comes through that designation – from the cosponsors of the award – will support three new Bioentrepreneurs in Residence a year for at least three years. We can attract some good talent that way, with the ultimate goal of the entrepreneur licensing a new technology and exiting the program as the CEO of a new company.

REACH-ING OUT: The Long Island Bioscience Hub just released a request for proposals under the NIH’s [Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub] program, across the three partner institutions. That will generate the first round of REACH-funded projects. The NIH provided $3 million and multiple institutional sponsors contributed, including the three partner institutions, the SUNY Research Foundation and Empire State Development, bringing the total to $8.4 million. And we’ve pulled together an external review board that includes representation from Pfizer, Novartis, GE and Canon. That’s really exciting.

CULTURAL EXCHANGE: Ultimately, our goal is certainly to develop new technologies and innovations that impact healthcare. But it’s also to create a shift in the culture, so that faculty and post-docs and all the members of the innovation economy start thinking about how science in general impacts healthcare.

Interview by GREGORY ZELLER