Why isn’t New York City a biotech hub?

The Wall Street Journal takes a deep look at the issue, spotlighting a $53.4 million Brooklyn project as an illustrative example.  City and state officials set out to build a sweeping biotech space in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, planning to create 1,000 jobs and seed the breeding ground that would finally usher in a life sciences scene to rival Boston and San Francisco.  Now, 8 years later, BioBAT is up and running, but its 9 stories remain mostly empty, according to WSJ.

 BioBAT’s trouble recruiting startups and researchers is, in part, one of logistics.  Biotech startups tend to sprout up in the shadow of great research institutions, but in New York, Weill Cornell Medical College, Columbia University Medical Center and the rest of the city’s A-list outposts are in uptown Manhattan, not Brooklyn.  That distance has limited BioBAT’s efforts to attract entrepreneurs, the newspaper reports.

 Meanwhile, on Manhattan’s East Side, a much glitzier project has found some success.  The Alexandria Center for Life Science, opened in 2010, snagged a major anchor tenant in 2012 when Roche ($RHHBY) decided to headquarter its U.S. early development operation there.

 That site offers much closer proximity to the city’s major research hubs, but, with rents around $80 a square foot, it largely caters to Big Pharma, not spendthrift startups, according to WSJ. BioBAT’s rates, in the range of $30 to $40, are much more amenable to small companies, but the relative seclusion of Brooklyn makes it a tough sell.

 But a group of local luminaries is working to help make New York’s bio ecosystem less top-heavy.  Under a public-private deal formed in the waning days of Michael Bloomberg’s tenure, Celgene and Eli Lilly are teaming up with the city to help launch a $100 million program that aims to found up to 20 local biotechs, scouting for a venture partner to join the fold.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Biotech; Damian Garde; 15 July 2014

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