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Is New York City the next big life science powerhouse?

By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

Can New York City become the next life science research and start-up powerhouse? It can, and it’s on its way according to a roundtable discussion at the 6th Annual New York Hospital, Outpatient Faciltiies & Medical Office Building Summit held Sept. 25 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

The group of speakers represented all aspects of life science research, healthcare and real estate:

  • Derek Brand, COO, NewYorkBio
  • Sue Rosenthal, Vice President, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)
  • Nishta Rao, Managing Director, BioLabs @NYULangone
  • Scott Metzner, Founder & Principal, The Janus Property Company
  • Jessica Vitali, RA Associate, Jack L. Gordon Architects

Here are some excerpts from the discussion:

Derek Brand, COO, NewYorkBio, says New York City has a tremendous pipeline of talent from the business side to the scientist. He said the network of hospitals, lab space and academic institutions make this a natural fit for the city.

Sue Rosenthal, Vice President, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), agreed that they are already seeing growth and are unlocking more lab space. She says New York has the talent and resources to rival these other life science towns. She says first they identified a gap in wet lab space. The zoning laws were clarified to define what was allowed and that opened the doors for developers to change those buildings to be wet labs. She says, we have been working with many developers and RFPs to identify buildings to make that space happen.

“Kendall Square is a cluster. Will NYC have a cluster?  I think we will have several mini clusters: Harlem, Soho, East Side with Alexandria Center for Life Science. We will dwarf these other cities because we have so much academia and talent.  We have the special sauce of talent and connectivity.”

Nishta Rao, Managing Director, BioLabs @NYULangone, says before people never even thought of spinning companies out of their studies. She says grad students in NYC are excited about the biolabs at NYUlangone. It’s now a platform to help them transplant their work into potentially commercially viable products

Rao says it’s fantastic to see this evolution happen as companies come through their door. She says they are seeing diversity in companies and are developing their own character. Rao says the scientists have access to Wall Street money, and Big Pharma is very interested in what’s going on.

Scott Metzner, Founder & Principal, The Janus Property Company, says his company is developing over a million square feet by Columbia University.  He says they are setting the stage for the industry. Metnzer says the problem for start-ups and step-out companies is everything is inverse for providing space to the company. For early start ups, it’s very capital intensive, but their credit is minimal to non-existent.  They look for lab space the day before they need it.  You don’t really want to be sitting on inventory, but we view ourselves as nimble enough company to see a spot in the market to take an investment chance that the broader market is nervous about taking.

He says, “We don’t penalize for breaking a lease as long as they move or grow into another part of our space. Nobody wants to be alone. They want to be where can they hang with other companies or academic institutions. We have created spaces with open areas where different companies can sit and chat.”

Jessica Vitali, RA Associate, Jack L. Gordon Architects, says that research and healthcare are core to their practice. She says there is a lack to space to develop near the academic institutions so they are doing a lot of adaptive reuse work. She says undesirable spaces are being scooped up. For example, they renovated an old brewery into a high-tech lab. She says they are seeing conflicting trends – it needs to be flexible space for growth but also highly specific space. The highly specific equipment may have stringent requirements so she does think it can really work for researchers to share space and some equipment.