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BioInc@NYMC finds place in growing Hudson Valley biotech sector

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In the year and a half since New York Medical College launched its BioInc@NYMC incubator, the 11,800-square-foot space has quickly filled in with startups hoping to find the next breakthrough in biomedicine.

The incubator is a nonprofit, private-public partnership aimed at supporting new companies in the biomed sector. The project pooled resources from the state, federal and Westchester County governments, as well as the direct investment of the college.

The incubator launched in October 2014 at 7 Dana Road, once the home of the American Health Foundation, where groundbreaking research was done linking tobacco use and lung cancer. The college bought the 120,000-square-foot building in 2006 for $2.6 million. The $5 million incubator was part of $17 million in planned building renovations. The college received a total of $7.9 million from Empire State Development and from the Generating Employment Through New York Science program. It also received funds through the federal Economic Development Administration.

 At the ceremony to announce the opening of the incubator, college chancellor and CEO Edward C. Halperin said the best way to predict the future of medicine was to “invent it ourself.”

While it’s hard to measure whether the incubator has accomplished that, it’s easier to account for the companies that have acquired space in the 10,000 square feet assigned the incubator.

On a recent Monday afternoon, members of three different companies were at work. The three-person team at MOE Medical Devices was meeting in a workspace adorned with tools and an assortment of nuts and bolts. The team is at work on a prototype that can use low-temperature ion radiation, similar to what’s used in a plasma TV screen, to zap infectious organisms and abnormal tissue.

The application the group is working on can treat onychomycosis, or toenail fungus, by placing the toe directly under the ion radiation. They hope to sell it to podiatrists and dermatologists.

CEO Marc Zemel said people who currently have toe fungus have to either rely on a topical cream that has to be applied every day for a year, or take antibiotics that come with liver toxicity risks.

“So far, pretty exciting results,” Zemel said. “It can basically sterilize the area under the nail in one treatment. We’re going to run many treatments to be sure, but this beats putting cream on your toe every day for a year.”

One room over, a two-person team with Shy Therapeutics ran tests in a rectangular wet lab. CEO Yaron Hadari preferred not to give away too many specifics, but said he is in the early stage of product research for therapeutics.

Down the hall, Barbara and Bob Soltz the husband and wife team behind Conversion Energy Enterprises (CEE) used the rainy afternoon to take inventory of their equipment. CEE develops and prototypes laser products for medical application, with two products in the pre-clinical trial phase. Both Barbara and Bob have been working on medical applications for lasers for 15 years, and in general applications for lasers “longer than I’d like to admit,” Barbara Soltz said. Together they are working to launch tissue-adhesive technologies and light-activated bio adhesives that can help fight infection while healing wounds.

“We can take photo-activated material and we can kill bacteria,” Soltz said. “Which is really important because worldwide we are experiencing epidemics of drug resistant microbes. We can actually kill bacteria within a three- to five-minute exposure, where antibiotics may take a year or more.”

The incubator is now home to seven companies. Randi Schwartz, the interim director of the BioInc@NYMC incubator, said she has been pleasantly surprised by the diverse mix of specialties among the companies. Even with more than 10,000 feet of space, the atmosphere encourages rubbing elbows and collaboration.

“That’s what is unique about the incubator,” Schwartz said. “Even though they are all different, their experiences are somewhat similar, so in addition to talking with our administration and management, they can talk and help each other.”

Schwartz said that type of communication can be crucial to a company just starting out.

“It’s a great support system,” she said. “As opposed to working out of your garage.”

Moe Medical Devices was one of those companies once working out of a garage. Zemel’s garage in New Rochelle, to be exact. Zemel said he was looking for an incubator specifically and came across BioInc@NYMC right as it was opening. His company was among the first tenants.

“We’ve got the right space, amazing facilities, whatever we need,” Zemel said.

On its website, BioInc@NYMC advertises a turnkey wet lab space and professional services. The incubator has thousands of dollars in lab equipment — costs that could be prohibitive for a company just getting its funding together.

That turnkey factor was what drove Shy Therapeutics CEO Hadari to the incubator.

“There was a match between what they had and what we really needed,” Hadari said. “When we first got in, we already had instruments waiting for us and we could immediately start work.”

Beyond equipment, the incubator also offers the opportunity to speak with what D. Douglas Miller, the dean of the school of medicine at NYMC and chief scientific officer at BioInc@NYMC, refers to as “key thought leaders.” The incubator can use its connection to the college to help get company leaders in touch with experts, mostly on the college’s faculty.

Companies in the incubator also have some tax benefits to tap into. BioInc@NYMC became part of Start-Up NY in December 2014, a state program that gives tax incentives to new businesses on school campuses. Companies in the program can operate for up to 10 years without paying state taxes, working with the host school during that time on commercial ventures. The incubator is also designated the Mid-Hudson Valley biotech “hot spot,” by the Empire State Development Corp., a state program that provides funding to incubators to help expand services and assist a greater number of new companies.

Schwartz said the incubator has space for three to five more businesses. Potential businesses can tour the space to see if it is a fit, then apply to become clients within the incubator. A potential company would then be considered by a committee that draws from college administration and incubator staff. Companies pay a rent of about $100 per square foot to BioInc@NYMC, which includes lab equipment, use of a conference room, utilities and housekeeping services.

“We look for many things (when considering clients),” Schwartz said. “The science … the commercialization of what the client is focused on. Viability. There has to be a focus. They are here to have us develop and target a market.”

Schwartz said the goal for the college is to have a client graduate within three to five years.

Most of the companies in the incubator come locally, which is in line with the vision Miller has for the incubator. He noted the Hudson Valley’s position between two major biomedical areas in New York City and Boston. He said the incubator conducted an analysis of its market with the Harvard Business School and found it was a leader in the field, particularly in Westchester.

“I always say we want to be the best and biggest incubator between New York City and Boston,” Miller said. “That’s our big vision.”

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