Biotechnology Research Catalyzed in Upstate New York

By: Kathryn Cartini, UVC Correspondent & CEO of Peacock Media

CNY Biotech Accelerator: Discovering, developing and deploying biotechnology innovation

Last week I attended the kickoff party for the Central New York Biotech Accelerator (CNYBAC), an incubation and acceleration facility in Syracuse, NY designed to catalyze the commercialization of bioscience technologies. The room was filled with leading biotechnology and biomedical researchers and executives specializing in everything from novel proton therapy solutions to pharmaceutical developments.

Among the crowd was Chief Scientific Officer and Chemistry Professor Mark McPike who is currently working with CNYBAC client LifeUnit as Scientific Researcher. In this role he assists in the development of novel therapeutics and chemical agents for treating and controlling biofilm formation and other bacterial activities.

“LifeUnit is taking soap manufacturing to the next level,” shared McPike. “We’re reengineering natures surfactant molecules to better control bacteria. This is beneficial not only for the cosmetic industry and consumer skin care market, but this technology will also be able to prevent or reduce lung infections in individuals with Cystic Fibrosis.

LifeUnit was founded by Yan-Yeung Luk, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Syracuse University. After receiving a competitive Grants for Growth award for proof of concept, his team utilized a portion of the funding to continue development at the Biotech Center.

“As local researchers we were very familiar with the Biotech Center. The labs are giant and the facility has some high-end, high-quality core equipment. Over the past two years the price structure has changed making the space more affordable, so this should help accommodate more and more researchers,” said McPike.

Noted as “the most creative and imaginative biotechnology academically-based innovation accelerator in North America,” CNYBAC’s mission is to incubate and accelerate university-industry partnerships that innovate products for bioscience marketplaces.

A division of SUNY Upstate, the Biotech Center’s massive 45,000+ sf LEED Silver-certified facility blew me away. With a modern lab and state-of-the-art conference rooms, this is the perfect place for companies involved in the commercialization of biotech and biomedical technologies to create the next big startup in Upstate New York.

“By maximizing the success of emerging biotech companies, the Biotech Center hopes to have a positive impact on the community’s economic health,” said Bob Corona, CNYBAC VP of Innovation and Business Development.

On the cutting edge of Biomedical Imaging and Image Processing

The Biotech Center is currently working with OMNYX, a General Electric Healthcare company, to demonstrate their new digital imaging technologies in pathology. OMNYX selected Upstate Medical University Pathology Medical Services Group to perform validation on their whole slide digital imaging systems for FDA approval. This catalyzed the Biotech Center to be selected as OMNYX Center of Excellence site.

Corona, who is also Professor and Chairman of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Director of Neuropathology for Upstate Medical University said, “A lot of biotech centers lack an anchor tenant that can stimulate new products and new companies. Having this innovation engine to develop LDTs (Laboratory Development Tests) is a testament to the facility.”

CNYBAC offers a Collaborative Lab that licenses bench space as well. This provides smaller startups with the ability to be within a specialized bioscience facility, working with other innovators to develop even more potential collaborations.

Additional clients currently working on ventures at the Accelerator include ARC Scientific, Advanced Oncotherapy, Finger Lakes BIO and Full Circle Feed, a clean energy company that recently joined the Center in February 2016. Several SUNY-ESF researchers also operate their labs out of the Biotech Center.

Finger Lakes Bio, LLC CEO Aaron Wolfe (left) and CSO Adam Blanden (right) at CNYBAC Kickoff Party

“I’m from Syracuse and I want to see the Biotech Center survive. I spend a lot of time on a volunteer basis recruiting other researchers with a passion for developing novel technologies. The more participation in the program, the more viable the Center will become in Syracuse, and I hope LifeUnit can help grow the status locally, statewide and nationally.”

Have a bioscience startup working towards commercialization? Submit your application here to become a client of the CNYBAC.

“What really makes this program special outside of the facility and advanced equipment is the access to the experts and talent at Upstate Medical University, SUNY-ESF, Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego,” said Corona. “Accelerator clients are also in a setting that allows them to meet and connect with other companies, scientists and clinical specialists.”

Between these universities, approximately 25,000 students and faculty members are within walking distance of the CNYBAC, providing an outstanding selection of potential interns and employees prepared to advance each company’s novel technology.

CNYBAC also connects high-growth companies to leading professionals and mentors who specialize in technology transfer, biotech law and bioscience funding. This support is vital to accelerating the commercialization of their products, and includes tax benefits for members as part of the New York Innovation Hot Spot Program.

Dr. Charles Maynard of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project shows off his transgenic trees

“Funding is critical to move technology forward, and you can certainly achieve some of this with the help of STTR/SBIR grants,” explained McPike. “The Biotech Center is designed to help with grant funding, and we’re seeing a lot more traction in Syracuse using grant money to innovate and commercialize technologies.”

Biotechnology opens a renewed age of innovation capital funding opportunities

Biotechnology is a hot topic among investors right now. Anchored on high-profile product breakthroughs and scientific advancements, biotech is an area to watch.

According to the Ernst & Young (EY) Biotechnology Industry Report 2015, “Beyond the Borders: Reaching New Heights,” these are good times for the biotech industry. For the second consecutive year, biotech companies have delivered strong, even unprecedented, results in revenues, profitability and financing. After a strong rebound in 2013, the public companies in global biotechnology have started to achieved double digit revenue growth. There has also been a steep incline in the amount of innovation capital raised as product successes fuel investors and large companies to heavily fund R&D.

New York State ranked 4th in EY’s US Public Company Financial Highlights by Geographic Area in 2014 with 34 companies totalling over $53 million in market capitalization and nearly $4 million in revenue.

Latest perspectives -> Visit ey.com/VitalSigns and follow @EY_LifeSciences on Twitter.

With investors and large corporations recognizing and excited about rewarding biotechnology ventures, local communities are now experiencing a vibrancy in R&D innovation capital. This funding is acting as a direct pipeline for innovation breakthroughs, seen in new accelerators and programs in Upstate New York like the CNY Biotech Accelerator.

A prime example is Upstate Medical University’s award of a $575,000 grant from the SUNY Performance and Investment Fund to bring precision medicine to cancer care. The funding will be used to initiate the SUNY Institute for Precision Cancer Research, Education and Care (IPCREC). This program is projected to launch in 2016 onsite at the CNY Biotech Accelerator, aligning cutting-edge resources to serve students, patients and the Upstate community.

“Right now we’re speaking with a large corporation on a multi-million dollar investment, and we’re receiving interest from various angel investment funds. The additional funding could help grow the Biotech Center’s biocomputing and digital imaging facility,” said Corona.

CNYBAC Helps Spark New Entrepreneurial Ideas

Phase 2 construction for the CNYBAC to make way for Upstate MIND, and genetic sequencing lab (photo courtesy of The S/L/A/M Collaborative)

During the kickoff party I learned about the Upstate MIND (Medical Innovation and Novel Discovery), a programmatic hub for the CNY Biotech Accelerator. This is where seminars and meetings on topics such as bioinformatics, digital imaging, human factors engineering and molecular genetics and diagnostics will held to help foster innovation. Upstate MIND is currently under construction, scheduled to be completed this summer.

“I completed my postdoc at Harvard Medical School where I experienced what it’s like to have every piece of equipment you could ever want,” said McPike. “Boston is a tough market to compete with, but not every company needs all that equipment. Sometimes all you need is a great idea and innovative spirit. The Biotech Center is being improved to cater to this culture.”

These “Cultivate Programs” are open to the entrepreneur and research public at no cost. Parking is free in the lot behind the Biotech Accelerator. Refreshments are provided.

Upcoming events include:

View the UNY Events Calendar for more information on CNYBAC events, and over 100 entrepreneurial meetups across Upstate New York.

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Originally published at uvc.org on March 3, 2016.

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