As New York struggled through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the few sectors of the local economy that not only survived but thrived was the life sciences. But it wasn’t an overnight success story. Years ago, forward-thinking leaders saw other major cities emerging as biotech hot spots and identified the potential – a highly educated workforce, world-class health care institutions, real estate developers and Wall Street types eager to invest – to cultivate a major life sciences hub in New York. Existing academic and research centers created collaborative partnerships. New biotech incubators were launched to support promising startups. Investors and economic development agencies provided millions of dollars for researchers and entrepreneurs to translate scientific discoveries into real-world applications – and high-paying jobs.
City & State’s first Life Sciences Power 50 – researched and written by City & State’s Jon Lentz and Kay Dervishi – recognizes many of the key individuals behind the sector’s remarkable growth in New York, including scientists, venture capitalists, government officials, health care executives, real estate developers, philanthropists and others who have positioned New York as a biotech center on track to rival those in Boston and San Francisco.
New York-based Pfizer partnered with the German company BioNTech to develop the first COVID-19 vaccine to be administered in the U.S., a stunning scientific feat that relied on innovative mRNA technology to develop a highly effective vaccine in under a year. Albert Bourla, who started out as a veterinarian in Greece before rising through the ranks at Pfizer, is now looking to expand vaccine delivery in countries such as India and Australia while pushing for a booster in the U.S. One of Bourla’s top deputies is Angela Hwang, who oversees the company’s commercial endeavors and is rumored to be the next in line to lead the pharmaceutical giant.
Drs. Leonard Schleifer and George Yancopoulos have built Regeneron into a biotech giant in the past three decades. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the $62 billion, Westchester-based company developed a COVID-19 antibody drug – famously used by President Donald Trump – which will be more widely available since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a more convenient form in June. Regeneron is betting big on its success fending off virus variants and protecting people who remain unvaccinated.
Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is one of the oldest and most well-known institutions in the world dedicated to treating and developing treatments for cancer. It has been led for the past decade by Dr. Craig Thompson, a physician whose laboratory focuses on cell biology and immunology. In February, researchers issued a study on the cause of “brain fog” in COVID-19 patients. Memorial Sloan Kettering partners with The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine through the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, a collaboration aimed at expediting scientific discoveries.
The Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo bills itself as the first institution worldwide to solely focus on cancer research. About 120 years later, it ranks as one of the country’s highest-performing cancer hospitals. Candace Johnson has led Roswell Park since 2015, after more than a decade serving as deputy director and chair in the center’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Under her leadership, the center has expanded partnerships with hospitals and other health systems across the state.
The Rockefeller Institute was founded in the early 1900s by John D. Rockefeller Sr. following the death of his grandson from scarlet fever. Early on, its scientists studied diseases including meningitis, yellow fever and polio. Today, researchers at what’s now The Rockefeller University are conducting groundbreaking work on how long COVID-19 immunity lasts and HIV antibody treatments. The institution, led by Dr. Richard Lifton since 2016, recently was awarded a LifeSci NYC grant to develop the Tri-Institutional Translational Center for Therapeutics incubator with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Alex Gorsky’s Johnson & Johnson has been all over the news lately thanks to its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine as well as its recent multi-state, multibillion-dollar opioid settlement. It hasn’t made as many headlines, but the New Jersey pharmaceutical company has also been helping to give a boost to life sciences research across the Hudson River. In 2017, the Johnson & Johnson Innovation network teamed up with the New York Genome Center on JLABS @ NYC, a 30,000-square-foot facility to house biotech startups with $17 million in funding from the state.
Dr. Giovanni Caforio, an Italy native who joined Bristol Myers Squibb over two decades ago, has led the pharmaceutical giant since 2015. Known for its immunotherapy treatments targeting cancer, Bristol Myers Squibb recently secured rights to a COVID-19 antibody treatment developed by the Rockefeller University. The company, which acquired Celgene in 2019 for $74 billion, has a corporate headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side, although much of its research and development is centered in New Jersey.
In 2017, NYU Langone Health rolled out BioLabs@NYULangone, with space for up to 35 biotech startups. Funded by NYU Langone, the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s LifeSci NYC Initiative and Empire State Development, the incubator is a partnership with BioLabs, a national biotech network. When BioLabs@NYULangone was announced, Robert Schneider, NYU Langone Health’s associate dean for therapeutics alliances and a professor of molecular pathogenesis, touted his institution’s track record in translating biomedical innovations and drug discoveries into high-tech job growth.
When the Alexandria Center for Life Science broke ground in 2007, it was a key milestone in the yearslong effort to recruit and retain biotech companies in New York. The real estate development firm that developed and is still building New York City’s first commercial life science campus is Alexandria, led by Joel Marcus. Last year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s new Pandemic Response Institute will be housed at Alexandria’s center. The California company’s New York office is led by John Cunningham.
The University at Buffalo’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, led by Norma Nowak and Venu Govindaraju, brings together academic researchers with industry partners. An expert in genomics, a biochemistry professor and the founder and chief scientific officer of Empire Genomics, Nowak also drove state funding to the university and helped create the Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics. Govindaraju is a distinguished professor of computer science and engineering at the SUNY school and the founding director of the Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors.
The New York Genome Center mobilized quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tom Maniatis launched the COVID-19 Genomics Research Network alongside other researchers as New York became the early hotspot for COVID-19. More recently, the academic research institution has played a key role in sequencing coronavirus samples and monitoring variants. Maniatis, who’s also a Columbia University professor, has served as the genome center’s scientific director and CEO since 2017. He oversees the center’s development of genomic methods and research to better understand cancer and neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases.
The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is home to pioneering research in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and other areas, while also housing an academic publishing house and a graduate school. At the laboratory’s helm is Bruce Stillman, who was appointed president in 2003 and has been honored for his research exploring how chromosomes are duplicated in cells. Over the past year, experts at Cold Spring researched whether the heartburn drug famotidine can reduce the severity of COVID-19 and partnered with Northwell Health to track the spread of the virus in New York.
Dr. Philip Ozuah’s interest in medicine began while growing up in West Africa. That passion drove him to lead Montefiore Medicine, which encompasses both the Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Ozuah oversees Montefiore’s efforts to improve patient care and develop research. At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine – which is under the Montefiore umbrella – Dr. Gordon Tomaselli has helped cement the Bronx-based university’s reputation as a top research-intensive medical school. Tomaselli, an expert on ion channels, has also served as Montefiore’s executive vice president and chief academic officer since 2018.
Empire State Development, New York’s economic development arm, has for years boosted investment in the life sciences industry across the state, and since 2017, ESD’s point person on that effort has been Maria Mitchell. Mitchell previously founded and led AMDeC, an effort to spur collaboration among academic medical research centers. She also had stints as chair of what was then known as the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. and as a top health policy adviser in the Giuliani administration. According to ESD, New York now ranks second nationally in bioscience jobs.
After being promoted to replace James Patchett at the helm of the New York City Economic Development Corp. temporarily in March, Rachel Loeb was appointed to the leadership post on a permanent basis in May. While EDC’s economic development efforts are wide-ranging, one key task for Loeb is overseeing the $1 billion LifeSci NYC initiative. In January, the institution announced $38 million in research infrastructure grants awarded to Columbia University, Montefiore-Einstein, the New York Stem Cell Foundation and Rockefeller University. Through the initiative, NYCEDC also helped launch the Pandemic Response Lab, which handled 20% of the city’s COVID-19 testing at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and first spotted the highly contagious delta variant.
When Maria Gotsch took over the Partnership Fund for New York City over two decades ago, she made a smart bet on biotech. With her professional background in finance, Gotsch oversaw research into how New York could become a national life science hub, and followed through with millions of dollars in funding to support biotech startups in the city. In April, the organization issued a report touting the economic gains and the “strategic investment by the public and private sector over the past several years.”
The New York Stem Cell Foundation’s mission is to conduct stem cell research that fuels insight on how to cure major diseases, both through its own research institute and via grant-making. The organization, led by Susan Solomon, has given significant attention to seeing how stem cells can be used by researchers trying to better understand COVID-19. Solomon co-founded the New York Stem Cell Foundation 16 years ago, driven by a desire to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes after her son was diagnosed with the condition.
The Wadsworth Center has played a vital role in the state’s approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, analyzing COVID-19 tests and monitoring coronavirus variants. As the Albany-based Wadsworth Center became the state’s primary testing site in the early days of the pandemic, Michael Ryan sought to ensure that the state’s public health laboratory has adopted strategies to deliver those test results accurately and reliably. For more than a decade, he has supported the world-class laboratory’s quality and regulatory oversight programs.
The nonprofit Empire Discovery Institute and the health care investment firm Deerfield Management Company launched a major research partnership this year to advance the development of new therapeutics. The research will be backed with $65 million from Deerfield and will help to propel discoveries that emerge from the multiple research institutions the organization works with such as the University at Buffalo. Martin Graham has guided the Empire Discovery Institute’s work over the past two years, bringing with him more than three decades of experience as a drug developer and entrepreneur.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the creation of the LifeSci NYC initiative five years ago, he also launched a new Life Sciences Advisory Council to advise the city’s approach to supporting the life sciences industry’s growth. One notable figure offering expertise to the city is Dr. Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate who previously served as director of the National Institutes of Health. He co-leads the group alongside Vicki Sato, a former Harvard University professor and chair of Vir Biotechnology’s board of directors.
Mount Sinai Innovation Partners helps translate research projects from academics into actual health care products and services. This is achieved through partnerships and collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. Erik Lium oversees this work in addition to his role as executive vice president and chief commercial innovation officer for the Mount Sinai Health System. Mount Sinai Innovation Partners launched a new program in June that aims to advance health care and biotechnology startups.
Columbia University is a fertile life sciences research hub, with leading scientists producing breakthrough discoveries on a regular basis. Yet not every academic aspires to translate their findings into commercial applications. Among those who do are Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic and Brent Stockwell. Vunjak-Novakovic, a Serbian American scientist who specializes in using stem cells for facial bone grafts and regeneration, recently was awarded a Columbia Life Science Accelerator pilot grant for an early diagnostic test for myocarditis. Stockwell, who studies cell death processes to develop strategies to combat cancer, was named in January to lead Columbia’s new Therapeutic Validation Center, with up to $9 million in funding from New York City to help turn promising research into commercial startups. Orin Herskowitz, meanwhile, is the senior vice president of intellectual property and tech transfer and heads up Columbia Technology Ventures, which helps take faculty members’ inventions to market. He has also worked directly with Harlem Biospace, a biotech incubator spearheaded by the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Harlem is having another renaissance – but this time it’s all about the flourishing life sciences sector. In 2013, Columbia University biomedical engineering professor and biotech entrepreneur Sam Sia launched Harlem Biospace, with an initial investment of $626,000 from the New York City Economic Development Corp. Capitalizing on its proximity to Columbia University and the City College of New York, the incubator, which is led by Sia and co-founder Christine Kovich, now has more than a dozen tenants.
James Simons has worn many hats throughout his life. Mathematician. Hedge fund manager. Philanthropist. Political donor. The billionaire has garnered less attention for his Flatiron Institute. Housed at the eponymous foundation Simons founded, the New York City-based institute’s mission is to develop and apply computational tools to advance scientific research. It currently houses five centers focused on computational biology, computational neuroscience, computational astrophysics, computational quantum physics and computational mathematics.
Over the past quarter century, Deerfield has built up the life sciences sector in its own backyard, raising millions of dollars for biotech investment and partnering with the New York City Economic Development Corp. in 2019 to develop a life sciences campus. “Creating an environment in which innovative thinking, groundbreaking advances in scientific discovery … will occur every day is tremendously exciting,” Deerfield Managing Partner James Flynn, who has been with Deerfield since 2000, said when plans for the campus were announced. Michael Foley leads the Deerfield Discovery and Development division, which recently partnered with the nonprofit Empire Discovery Institute to invest $65 million aimed at speeding up the development of new therapeutics.
Kallyope is a homegrown company illustrating how coordinated efforts to boost life sciences in New York can succeed. The biotech company was launched in 2016 with $44 million in financing from local investors like Lux Capital and Tony Evnin. It’s housed in Alexandria’s Manhattan center, and was co-founded by Tom Maniatis, a Columbia University biochemistry professor who now also leads the New York Genome Center. Merck veteran Nancy Thornberry is the founding CEO of Kallyope, which develops therapies based on the link between the gut and the brain.
Intra-Cellular Therapies develops treatments for disorders related to the central nervous system, including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and Parkinson’s disease. The biopharmaceutical company hit a milestone this year when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agreed to review its proposal to use lumateperone to treat depression associated with bipolar I or II disorder. At the helm is Sharon Mates, who co-founded the New York City-based company in 2002 and has previously held leadership positions at Functional Genetics and North American Vaccine Inc.
This past year has been a significant one for the life sciences company Schrödinger. Under Ramy Farid’s leadership, the New York City-based company had its initial public offering last summer. Schrödinger ended 2020 with $108.1 million in revenue, an increase of 26% compared to the previous year. It goes to show how far the company – which has created computational platforms used for drug discovery and in materials science – has come since its founding in 1990.
Since joining venture capital firm Venrock in 1974, Tony Evnin has made major investments in New York’s biotechnology industry. More than 30 of his investments have reached an initial public offering throughout his time at Venrock, which has offices in New York City, Boston and Palo Alto. He serves on the boards of AVEO Pharmaceuticals and Infinity Pharmaceuticals and is a member of the Mayor’s Life Sciences Advisory Council, which aims to guide New York City’s approach to expanding the life sciences sector locally.
NewYorkBIO represents nearly 300 of the state’s bioscience companies, universities, research institutions, foundations and other players active in the space, including high-profile members such as Regeneron and Pfizer. Jennifer Hawks Bland oversees the trade association’s state-level lobbying for the bioscience industry and other support for its members. Before joining NewYorkBIO, Bland served as executive director of the State Government Affairs & Policy group at the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Merck.
After Nat Turner saw firsthand the challenges his cousin faced with getting cancer treatment, he was inspired to launch a new venture that would fight cancer with technology. In 2012, he and Zach Weinberg founded Flatiron Health, which gathers real-world clinical data to gather insights on effective treatments for oncologists. Turner and Weinberg stepped down from their respective positions as CEO and chief operating officer earlier this year, though Turner continues to be involved as chair of the company’s board of directors. The digital health startup’s CEO is now Carolyn Starrett.
Entrepreneurs in the life sciences have a valuable resource in IndieBio New York, a program launched in May 2020 by the venture capital firm SOSV to connect startups with funding, research space and other support. Stephen Chambers, a founding scientist at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and co-founder of Abpro Therapeutics, and Sean O'Sullivan, managing general partner of SOSV, have played roles in getting the New York-focused initiative launched. The state plans to pitch $25 million toward IndieBio New York over the course of five and a half years, while SOSV also aims to put in an additional $60 million.
Carlo Rizzuto has played a key role in cementing Versant Ventures’ presence in the Northeast. Since joining the health care venture capital firm nine years ago, the New York City-based investor has had a hand in building up numerous companies, such as Repare Therapeutics, Graphite Bio and VenatoRx. Previously, Rizzuto worked at the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, where he led global product development teams developing new drugs.
Eva Cramer is the president of BioBAT, one of New York City’s early biotech research incubators that is housed at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. BioBAT, which was launched in 2004, has steadily expanded over the years. Cramer serves as vice president for biotechnology and scientific affairs at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and studies cell biology. One of Cramer’s colleagues is W. Marcus Lambert, who came over from Weill Cornell Medicine to serve as associate vice president for research strategy and operations. Lambert has discussed the lack of racial diversity in the life sciences sector. “The STEM workforce is connected to the educational pathways,” he told Nature this year. “If people are switching majors and dropping out of STEM programs, we’re not doing our jobs.”
Matthew DeLisa has led the Cornell Institute of Biotechnology since 2019, overseeing its research and entrepreneurial work in the life sciences field. He has teamed up with other experts at Cornell to develop a universal seasonal flu vaccine that could be longer lasting and more effective than the ones that are currently available. The effort is now progressing toward human trials. DeLisa also co-founded the biomanufacturing company SwiftScale Biologics in 2019 alongside Michael Jewett, a professor at Northwestern University, which uses cell-free protein synthesis to drive forward drug programs.
Last summer, Drs. Yasmin Hurd and Uraina Clark published a commentary, “Addressing racism and disparities in the biomedical sciences,” in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. The two Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai professors argued that a critical factor behind racial inequality in health care is a lack of diversity in biomedical research. Hurd, an accomplished researcher who leads Mt. Sinai’s Addiction Institute, is known for her research on opioids and marijuana. Clark is also director of research development at the Icahn School’s Center for Scientific Diversity.
Investor Josh Wolfe once told Fortune magazine that when he looks for startups to back, he looks for efforts that were “once written about in science fiction.” The Lux Capital co-founder and Brooklyn native has taken a particularly strong interest in technologies related to the science of the human body’s biological clock and CRISPR gene editing. Wolfe, whose company has invested in dozens of biotech startups, serves as a director at multiple companies such as Shapeways, Strateos and Kallyope.
David Carmel is responsible for the gene editing and genome engineering company eGenesis’ external outreach to advocacy organizations, lawmakers, investors and others. Last year, Carmel joined the firm, which aims to develop organs that can be used for human transplants. Previously, he served as vice president in medical affairs and strategic alliances at Atara Biotherapeutics. In addition to his work, Carmel is a member of the New York State Life Science Advisory Board, which supports the state’s efforts to cultivate a thriving life sciences industry.
As part of New York’s $620 million Life Science Initiative, the Cuomo administration awarded a $5 million grant to the nonprofit NeuroCuresNY in 2019 with the goal of developing treatments for individuals disabled by strokes. NeuroCuresNY was launched as a collaboration between Weill Cornell’s Burke Neurological Institute, the University of Rochester’s Neurorestoration Institute and the Wadsworth Center to study and develop treatments for neurological disabilities. Its directors are Dr. Bradford Berk, who leads the Neurorestoration Institute, and Dr. Rajiv Ratan, who runs Burke Neurological Institute.
OrbiMed focuses its investments on companies in the health care and biotechnology industries. Carl Gordon serves as co-head of global private equity at OrbiMed. His notable investments at the New York City hedge fund have landed him on Forbes magazine’s list of top venture capitalists several years in a row. He currently serves on the board of directors for companies such as Terns Pharmaceuticals, Adicet Bio and Keros Therapeutics.
Russell Carson co-founded the private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe in 1979. Over 40 years later, the New York company has raised more than $27 billion of capital, a significant portion of which has been dedicated to the health care sector. Carson has led its health care investment practice for many years and serves as lead director of the Pennsylvania-based Select Medical, which owns numerous hospitals and clinics.
Nanoscience is scientific research conducted at the incredibly miniscule level of nanometers – there are 25.4 million nanometers in one inch – and encompasses everything from engineering and physics to chemistry and biology. At SUNY Poly’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, tissue culture, stem cells and cell and molecular biology are among the areas of life science research. The college’s interim dean is J. Andres Melendez, who studies reactive oxygen and nitrogen species.
CBRE is known for its dominant role in the commercial real estate market in New York, nationally and internationally. What is less known about the company is the lucrative niche it has carved out in developing facilities and other infrastructure for the life sciences sector. John Isaacs, a Manhattan-based executive vice president, has played a key part of several major transactions over the years, including NYU Langone Medical Center’s BioLabs New York incubator that was announced in 2017.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo named Dr. Tony Coles to his New York State Life Science Advisory Board in 2018, he was running Yumanity Therapeutics, a Boston-area biopharmaceutical company focusing on neurodegenerative diseases. While still executive chair of the firm he co-founded, Coles has taken on a new role leading Cerevel Therapeutics, another Boston neuroscience company, launched as a partnership between Pfizer and Bain Capital. Coles serves on the boards of Regeneron, Johns Hopkins University and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In October, The New York Times published an in-depth feature on how the life sciences sector is a bright spot in Manhattan’s “battered” office market. The publication cited Taconic Partners’ planned conversion of an old West Side auto showroom into yet another life sciences hub as the latest example of biotech investment buoying the real estate industry. Taconic Partners was founded in 1997 by Charles Bendit and Paul Pariser, who still lead the company today as co-CEOs. In the spring, they completed a $600 million recapitalization for the new hub.
Harriet Washington’s breakthrough 2006 book, “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present,” documents the history of mistreatment of Black people by the medical establishment. The award-winning author, who previously was a health journalist at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, went on to hold posts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the New York Academy of Medicine. She also helped get the statue of James Marion Sims, who abused enslaved women for medical research, removed from Central Park. Her latest book is “Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent.”
Dr. Claire Pomeroy has spent eight years leading the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which has $75.9 million in assets and a mission to support medical research through awards, education and advocacy. Besides her philanthropic work, Pomeroy is an expert in HIV/AIDS and public health and has held faculty positions at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Davis. She serves on the advisory board for LifeSci NYC, New York City’s $1 billion initiative aiming to cement the city as a hub for the life sciences.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his Life Sciences Task Force in 2018, he named Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, the then-chief medical officer at Pfizer, as one of the board members. She’s tasked with overseeing New York’s $620 million Life Science Initiative to compete with other biotech hubs around the country and across the globe. Lewis-Hall, an accomplished pharmaceutical executive who went on to serve as Pfizer’s chief patient officer and executive vice president, retired in March 2020. She serves on the board of Exact Sciences, a cancer diagnostic company.
Willa Appel heads the New York Structural Biology Center, an organization made up of nine academic research institutions in the state. This includes the Wadsworth Center under the state Department of Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The nonprofit consortium’s focus is on helping researchers at those institutions understand how biological molecules are built through various services, such as X-ray crystallography and protein production.
Edgar Moya is on the government and policy team at Merck, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in New Jersey. Moya, who has been with Merck for nearly four years, is registered to lobby on health care, pharmaceutical and Medicaid matters in Albany on its behalf. He is the brother of New York City Council Member Francisco Moya, has served on Community Board 4 in Queens and has donated to candidates for city and state office.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the doubling of the LifeSci NYC initiative to $1 billion.
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