I recently attended NY BIO’s annual meeting in New York City. This was my first time to this event but I have attended other Life Science events that were focused on New York City and I do my best to keep up with how they are developing the ecosystem. For those of you that don’t know, both the city and the state are making big investments to develop the life science sector and become a hub with I am guessing the goal of being in the same class as Boston and San Francisco.
From an outsider’s perspective looking in it would seem like the Life Science sector would be a natural fit for the city. A key ingredient for the industry is money and in New York City there is plenty of it. Another natural advantage the region has are its world class research facilities and hospitals. Big pharma has a presence across the river in NJ so there should be plenty of talent familiar with the full life-cycle of drug development.
The meeting featured speakers on the front lines and I learned that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Let’s start with money, yes, there is a lot of money in New York but it is not necessarily the type of money that invests in biotech companies. A fascinating point was made by the CEO of Alexandria Real Estate, in Q1 2018 there was $1.6 billion invested in Boston, $1.7 billion invested in San Francisco and less than $150 million in New York. The general consensus was that despite this disparity between Boston and San Francisco the trend is going in the right direction and money is not as big of an issue as it was just a few years ago. In addition, the state and city seem to be stepping in and putting serious money into growing the sector. How easy or difficult it is to access the government money I cannot answer.
The biggest problem that I heard from virtually everyone was the lack of space. Everyone complained that there was just not enough lab space in the city. Again, inroads are being made but it seems like this is the biggest impediment. JLABS has opened up space and BioLabs NY is about to open a huge new facility in Hudson Yards with NYU, so progress is being made. Whether these new labs will be enough to curb the demand we will need to wait and see.
Finally, a somewhat surprising issue was the lack of depth when it comes to the talent pool. A shared belief is that there is plenty of talent at the research level but it seems to dry up when companies mature and need the C-level and mid-manager types. This was something I heard a few times and I would have thought with the big pharma presence so close it would not be an issue.
Overall, the trend is going in the right direction for New York, but it takes time. You need to have some companies have success before you can really build a hub. You need to have companies mature and build a sizable employee presence. Someone said it takes 25 years and a couple of generations of companies before you really have a sustainable and robust ecosystem and New York is not even in year 10. I know the people in New York are doing what they can to accelerate it so I will be anxiously watching to see how it turns out.