HARLEM — A pair of city-funded efforts are designed to solidify New York City's place as an incubator for groundbreaking biotechnology companies
New York City is launching a joint $100 million venture capital fund with several pharmaceutical firms and a venture capital partner to develop new companies to tackle scientific research as part of the New York Early-Stage Life Sciences Funding Initiative.
In addition, Mount Sinai Hospital will launch an institute of technology designed to develop hi-tech solutions to medical problems, city officials announced Tuesday.
“This funding initiative is a testament to the strength of the City’s life sciences community,” Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel said in a statement, adding that "New York City will become a formidable force in life sciences innovation.”
The city will contribute $10 million to the venture capital fund while Celgene Corporation, GE Ventures and Eli Lilly & Company, will contribute $40 million. Another $50 million in investments will be sought from top venture capital funds after a selective vetting process.
"The two main ingredients most needed in early stage bio-tech are space and financing. Space is a huge challenge in New York City and if you have promising results you need investment," said Sam Sia, founder of bio-tech incubator Harlem Biospace and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University.
"Boston has that and the Bay Area has that, but we are missing those two ingredients. That's why the venture fund is a huge boost to early stage biotech," Sia added.
By 2020, the city hopes to have funded 15 to 20 companies developing biotech breakthroughs.
The goal of the Mount Sinai Institute of Technology, which is partnered with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will be to "transform biomedicine through discovery and development of technology-based solutions to critical unmet healthcare needs," officials say.
The institute, to be located in existing space to be renovated at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai's East Harlem campus, will award graduate degrees in "technology-based life sciences disciplines" to create a new crop of experts in the field while also incorporating entrepreneurship into the program.
Geoffrey Smith, director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said the institute will teach graduates to develop their ideas from research "all the way through the technology and product development process.”
Launched with a $5 million city investment, students and faculty at the program will engage in research on topics such as nanomedicine, cloud computing and robotics. Degrees such as a doctorate in design, technology and entrepreneurship will be issued.
The program is to launch in the fall of 2014 with 10 full time faculty members, 33 students, and 35 post-doctoral researchers and increase to 40 faculty members and 140 students and post-doctoral researchers by January of 2018.
“Growing New York City’s commercial life sciences industry is a central goal in NYCEDC’s efforts to diversify the economy, spur entrepreneurship and promote high-growth industries in which the City has competitive advantages,” NYCEDC President Kyle Kimball said in a statement.
Harlem is quickly becoming a biotech hot spot.
In addition to Harlem Biospace which used some city funding to open its West Harlem doors to 16 companies, five women scientists from Mount Sinai are hoping to launch KiiLN — Keystone for Incubating Innovation in Life Sciences, in East Harlem.
Sia believes New York City could emulate in the biotech sector the same growth it has seen in the tech sector through these new efforts.
"There was always this idea that biotech should be bigger in New York City and now there are some real efforts and fuel being added to the fire," said Sia. "The most critical thing we can do is to help people move their ideas forward."