By GREGORY ZELLER // Two of Long Island’s most-promising biotech startups are packing up their R&D and heading for greener pastures. At least for now.
Symbiotic Health and Goddard Labs – both jointly funded by regional business booster Accelerate Long Island and the venture-backed Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund – are gearing up to move to Brooklyn, where affordable, short-term lab space is readily available.
Spun out of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Symbiotic Health is working to develop and commercialize bacterial therapies for the treatment of Clostridium difficile, better known as C. diff, a sometimes deadly bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions like colitis.
The firm, which originally operated from the Harlem Biospace incubator, has worked out of a Roslyn Heights office since August and will continue to staff that location after the move.
Goddard Labs, where bacterial detection in agriculture is the main focus, has been functioning for months as a contract research organization for Symbiotic Health. On Monday, Goddard Labs cofounder and CEO Noel Goddard said the two firms were planning to continue the collaboration, but that she was planning to shut down her Calverton laboratory by January.
“Goddard Labs has always had a very positive experience at the Calverton facility,” said Goddard, a 2015 Innovator of the Year awardee. “But we believe the synergistic relationship between Symbiotic Health and Goddard Labs will be good for the further growth of both companies, and particularly helpful as Goddard Labs tries to raise new funding.”
Fundraising has proven a daunting challenge for Goddard as the federal government slowly rolls out new regulations tightening agriculture standards, giving farmers – and regional LI investors – less cause to rush to Goddard Labs’ innovative molecular diagnostics.
“Short of suffering a bacterial outbreak, it will be years before smaller farmers are motivated to have this testing done,” Goddard said. “Being near agricultural businesses on Long Island gave me the opportunity to speak to food processors and distributors and clarify the true landscape of the food-testing market, but this testing is still cost-prohibitive for small farms. This was never going to be my first market.”
In June 2014, Goddard Labs was one of the first five Long Island startups – along with Green Sulfcrete, PolyNova, SynchroPET and Traverse Biosciences – to earn a $100,000 seed investment from Accelerate Long Island and the LIETF. Thirteen months later, Symbiotic Health became the eighth investment by Accelerate and the fund. The startup later received a follow-on investment, no amount disclosed, from venture firm Topspin.
Neither Accelerate nor the LIETF have any restrictions requiring funded businesses to remain on Long Island.
Mark Lesko, the executive dean of Hofstra University’s Center for Entrepreneurship who was Accelerate’s top executive at the time of the Goddard Labs and Symbiotic Health investments, was not immediately available for comment Monday.
Honig said his startup has an accelerated agenda for the “one specific project” it’s sharing with Goddard Labs. While he wouldn’t elaborate on that project, Honig did note that the two firms need to complete the R&D by June – or bust.
“Great laboratories do exist (on Long Island),” Honig said. “But it’s a question of whether a little company like ours can access what we need over a time period that works with our financial situation.”
What they need, he added, is space to conduct about six months’ worth of hardcore lab work.
“There are very specific windows of opportunity in the microbiome space that have to be hit,” Honig said. “If you don’t, five or six other companies will fill that space. If you’re not first in this industry, you’re dead.”
Wherever it secures what Honig called “a very short-term lease with an eye toward a future extension,” Symbiotic Health “will be working extensively on Long Island for as long as we’re a company.”
“Concern over where somebody signs a lease for 400 square feet is not what economic development on Long Island is all about,” he said. “It’s about relationships, like the one we have with our exceptional partner at Goddard Labs.
“The term ‘open innovation’ has become kind of a buzzword, but this really is about being able to operate in different places at different times to accommodate specialized kinds of work,” he added.
“We anticipate that we will continue to work together (with Goddard Labs) in a third location that’s neither Roslyn Heights nor Calverton.”