PROVIDENCE — The state’s life sciences industry has been held back by fragmented and uncoordinated resources, according to a collaborative report from the biotechnology trade association RI Bio and Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s Rhode Island BioHub Group released Monday.
The report, “Leveraging the Revolution in Life Sciences: Growing the Rhode Island Innovation Ecosystem,” recommended that RI Bio act as an organizing force, among other suggestions intended to help the industry reach its potential in Rhode Island.
The study also advised that the sector should take advantage of the momentum and visibility of the new Wexford Science and Technology Innovation Complex, investments made by Rhode Island at the University of Rhode Island as well as capital investments at Brown University and the growing translational sciences expertise at the Warren Alpert Medical School.
Life sciences growth in neighboring Massachusetts, including the presence of numerous start-ups and larger pharmaceutical companies, is placing significant pressure on accessibility and affordability of start-up laboratory space in that area, forcing companies out of the Cambridge/Boston hub to suburbs as far away as Worcester and Springfield, Mass. The accessibility and lower cost of doing business in Rhode Island offers an opportunity to attract some of those businesses to Rhode Island, according to the report.
Patrice Milos, RI Bio board member and president & CEO of Medley Genomics, said RI Bio and Rhode Island BioHub Group’s collaboration on the report began as an effort to mirror the success enjoyed by a similar effort by Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, the founding chief executive of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in 2008. The MLSC has since invested more than $700 million of a 10-year, $1 billion life sciences investment fund and leveraged another $2.7 billion in matching investment capital, establishing Massachusetts as the global leader in life sciences.
“We’re nowhere near the scope of Massachusetts,” said Milos, but the state has shown it can attract life science companies to the state with Amgen Inc. and Rubius Theraputics locating some operations in the Ocean State.
While the groups considered several possible entities to follow Massachusetts’ lead, including R.I. Commerce Corp., Brown University, URI, and Salve Regina University, they settled on RI Bio as the best candidate to lead the effort as coordinating body for Life Sciences in the Ocean State.
RI Bio began the collaboration in October of 2016, while the organization was still the life sciences network, MedMates. As members worked with Rhode Island BioHub Group to determine how best to improve the Rhode Island life sciences industry, MedMates was also transitioning into its new identity as the Rhode Island chapter of Bio, with national and international contacts and resources within the industry.
“The two evolved together,” said Carol Malysz, executive director of RI Bio.
Locally, only RI Bio possesses the national and international industry contacts and resources, she said.
“It is essential that one group be responsible and accountable to the key stakeholders for delivery. This Council must be an independent entity with the financial resources to make things happen,” the report states, “RI Bio would have the remit and authority to oversee state-wide alignment of resources and capital investments including investments partnered through the state, matching grants for public/private initiatives overseen by a newly created Scientific Advisory Board consisting of leaders in the Life Sciences scientific community and alignment with the current R.I. Commerce Science and Technology Advisory Committee and their initiatives as specific examples.”
According to the report, gaps and the recommendations to address them include:
- A lack of translational scientific research, or basic research that is translated into a commercial application that improves health
- The report recommends enrolling university leadership to continue to drive change in university tech transfer/business development offices, with the aim of enabling easier, seamless externalization of assets and intellectual property
- Strengthen entrepreneurial culture/capital: The report calls on the state to create a forum of high net worth individuals in Rhode Island to discuss life sciences capital creation with the goal of establishing an initial $25 million private capital fund that could grow to $100 million as successful ventures launch and expand. The report also suggested elevating life sciences investing, even for those not traditionally involved in life sciences/new to the space. The report also called for work to involve leaders in the Rhode Island community, including Point Judith Capital, Providence Equity Partners, Slater Technology, Biograph Ventures, Cherrystone Angel Group and others.
- The group called for support of infrastructure for new company creation; for example, local development of laboratory and research facilities including wet lab space (as modeled by the Cambridge BioLabs, Wexford, URI innovation bond proposal). The report noted that no such facility exists yet, which may encourage local startups to move to Massachusetts and Connecticut.
- Build life science business ecosystem: The report calls for the industry to foster connections across research institutions to promote synergy in Rhode Island areas of distinct strength. This will include expertise in neuroscience/neurotechnology (research and clinical), computer and data sciences, medical technology and design innovation.
- Workforce development: Milos said the state needs to focus on using the workforce resources it possesses in the life sciences. For instance, she said, hundreds of students enrolled in Brown University’s neuroscience program could be kept in the state if there were jobs for them here once they finished their studies.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.