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Economic Slump, Federal Cash May Spur Biotech Hub in NYC

NEW YORK, April 5 - A powerful New York City business group plans to make lower Manhattan the new ground zero of biotech.


The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the economic malaise that followed drove many commercial tenants out of the southern tip of Manhattan. But all that vacant space and a massive infusion of federal redevelopment funds have created a new opportunity to create a biotech industry here, said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella group.


It may be the first time that biotech has a fighting chance in New York City: Even though the city has a dense concentration of world-class biomedical research institutions and is a major center both for investment capital and the pharmaceutical industry, it never developed a home-grown biotech center. Industry observers blame high rents.


But Wylde's organization has a new plan to transform lower Manhattan into a new hub for the biotech industry. Its first step is to convert a downtown building into 150,000 to 300,000 square feet of discount-priced lab-research space.


"The idea is to create subsidized space available to both early-stage and mid-stage companies," said Wylde. "We really see this as being the first step to begin to build an industry cluster. It gives an entry point."


She added that the Partnership is "extremely interested in the bioinformatics industry. It's easier to accommodate as part of the mix companies that have a lower dependence on wet labs."


The project could be underway soon. It's backed by the heads of most major New York research institutes, essential political players, and by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which controls billions in federal recovery money. The New York City Investment Fund, the Partnership's venture capital wing, has pledged to provide seed capital.


Once the group selects a building and develops a retrofit plan, said Wylde, a new center could be open for business in as little as 12 to 18 months.


She projected that with public underwriting of the project, rents for fully built-out space would cost between $35 and $45 per square foot--roughly comparable to prime rents in biotech hubs like Montgomery County, in Maryland.


The Partnership is also working to assemble other industry support, like access to venture capital, law firms, accounting firms, and headhunters.


Wylde said that a biotech center in lower Manhattan could help jump-start the industry's growth in the city. A range of major biomedical research centers, from New York University to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, have plans to develop new incubators, but many of these are still years in the future.


"The community in lower Manhattan is looking for a technology sector component to the redevelopment, and I think we're going to have broad-based support," added Wylde. "So far, it's been green lights."

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