Bioscience Hub readies $8.4M funding effort

By GREGORY ZELLER // The Long Island Bioscience Hub has announced plans to award $8.4 million in grants to local startups bringing bio-medical breakthroughs to market.

The hub is a coalition led by the state’s Center for Biotechnology at Stony Brook University and includes SBU, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Lab. It was launched in April with a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Since then, the group has added almost $5.5 million more in contributions from member institutions, the SUNY Research Foundation and Empire State Development, the state’s economic development arm.

The hub plans to award the funds to biotech-related startups over the next three years, significantly expanding the commercialization effort started by the Center for Biotechnology, which serves as the hub’s administrative spearhead.

“The NIH recognized the center had a successful track record of developing academic innovations and turning them into successful products and new companies,” said Diane Fabel, the center’s director of operations. “Now we have the tremendous support of Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven Lab as well. The collective pool of innovation represented by these institutions is really significant.”

Diane Fabel, director of operations at the Center for Biotechnology: $8.4 million to commercialize bio-med startups.

Diane Fabel, director of operations at the Center for Biotechnology: $8.4 million to commercialize bio-med startups.

Additional innovation: A private sector screening board made up of executives from tech and biotech titans like Pfizer, GE, Novartis and Canon. The board will review applications for funding and help determine which projects ultimately receive a slice of the $8.4 million pie.

“That’s another asset, having a process for evaluating these proposals and providing feedback on early-stage ideas,” said Teri Willey, vice president of business development and technology transfer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It may even bring forward some ideas that maybe wouldn’t have been thought of otherwise.”

“Putting management talent alongside scientists is a critical part of seeing companies develop and thrive,” Willey added. “The most important thing is this creates resources not only for Stony Brook University and BNL and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Other institutions, and the region in general, will benefit as well.”

Willey said she expects several proposals for funding to come from her laboratory, and that she’s intrigued by the thought of them being vetted by industry professionals.

Fabel agreed that the participation of the external reviewers, combined with the additional funding from the state and the SUNY Research Foundation, makes for a “really exciting” start for the hub.

“Our goal is certainly to develop new technologies and innovations that will directly impact the biotech industry,” Fabel said. “But it’s also to create a cultural shift, so that faculty and post-doctorates and all the members of the innovation economy are thinking more about how science can impact healthcare.”

To ensure the biggest bang for the program’s bigger bucks, the hub partners have launched a boot camp to train would-be entrepreneurs on making the best case for hub financing.

The camp assembles teams of advisors around entrepreneurs and those who would be, including industry experts, IP attorneys, Center for Biotechnology staffers and SBU graduate students. The curriculum includes perfecting the pitch, understanding intellectual property laws and preparing for the rigors of the business world, new experiences for those who have heretofore dedicated their professional lives to the laboratory.

“They host a series of models that have the entrepreneur and the team work through the market for their idea,” Fabel said. “How to describe it succinctly, how to understand the competitive landscape, how to work through the IP.”

With its bigger bankbook, the hub will look to increase participation in the boot camp program, including development of a shorter version.

“We’ll also offer a one-day boot camp that’s biotechnology-specific,” Fabel noted. “It’s meant to engage faculty and post-doctorate students who are thinking of applying funding.

“We’re not funding basic research, so applicants need to understand the commercial side.”

The National Institutes of Health awarded just three grants this year under its Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub program, or REACH. In addition to Long Island, hubs based at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and the University of Minneapolis in Minnesota were also funded.

Previous REACH beneficiaries include the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center, the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Center and the University of California’s Center for Accelerated Innovation.