NYU Langone opens NYC's largest biotech incubator with backing from biopharma giants

NYU Langone Health opened a 50,000-square-foot biotech incubator space in Manhattan that has attracted backing from big-name corporate sponsors including biopharma giants Bristol-Myers Squibb, Sanofi and Boehringer Ingelheim.

The health system's biotech incubator is part of a larger effort by New York City and the state of New York improve the city's standing as a top-tier biopharma hub after years of lagging behind the Boston/Cambridge area in Massachusetts and the San Francisco Bay Area.

NYU Langone invested $8 million to renovate a building in the Hudson Square area of Manhattan to house laboratories and office space for early-stage biotechnology and life sciences startups.

“This center will support the translation of game-changing discoveries by scientists into new treatments for patients,” says Dafna Bar-Sagi, vice dean for science and chief scientific officer at NYU Langone, in a statement.

Among the nearly two dozen early-stage companies currently housed at BioLabs@NYULangone are precision oncology medicine company Black Diamond Therapeutics and pharmaceutical company Sparian Biosciences, which is developing novel, safe analgesics. Another participant is microbiome biotechnology startup Fitbiomics, where researchers are studying gut bacteria from elite athletes to unlock the key to athletic performance.

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The incubator, developed in partnership with BioLabs, will ultimately house more than 35 companies along with 160 scientists and business and support staff, NYU Langone executives said.

The initiative addresses a long-standing challenge in New York City, Robert Schneider, Ph.D., associate dean for biomedical innovation and commercialization at NYU Langone, told FierceHealthcare. Schneider is a leading researcher and scientist who holds a number of patents and is a founding scientist of five biotechnology/small pharmaceutical companies.

New York academic centers are No. 2 in the country in federal medical research dollars awarded by the National Institutes of Health, with well over $1 billion awarded each year, Schneider said.

Almost half of venture capital investment in new technology companies comes from New York City, more than $140 billion a year. Despite this level of investment, the region has launched "relatively very few" new biotech companies in recent years, he said.

"That is actually quite a tragedy," Schneider said, noting that NYU Langone has successfully spun out about 130 companies in the eight years. The high price of real estate in New York City is a disincentive for biotech companies to stay, he said. 

The biotech incubator provides early-stage companies with affordable lab and office space as well as educational programming and operational support. 

"We also want to be able to bring those products, new therapeutics, and medical devices back into our own clinical centers at New York academic medical institutions. We’re already putting together consortia to be able to do clinical trials together. This initiative is pulling together academic centers to work together in a way that they haven’t before," Schneider said.

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The incubator program is funded through grants, such as a $5 million grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation as part of its LifeSci NYC Initiative, and $2 million from Empire State Development. BioLabs@NYULangone also brought in corporate sponsors which helps offset operational costs to keep the prices low, according to Schneider.

NYC's LifeSci initiative is a 10-year, $500 million effort to make the Big Apple big in biopharma, with 16,000 new life science jobs and up to 3 million square feet of new space for life-sci companies and institutions.

Last year, Johnson & Johnson opened a New York location of its JLABS life sciences and healthcare incubator. The 30,000-square-foot facility houses more than 30 life science startups focused on biopharma, medical devices, and consumer and digital health.

JLABS also received state funding to the tune of $17 million from New York state’s $620 million life sciences initiative.

NYC healthcare leaders are hoping these efforts will help establish a life science research cluster in New York City to rival other cities.

"In sports, we might not be able to beat Boston these days, but in commercial activity, watch out," Schneider said.