The Westchester Biotech Project, launched this spring, will try to bring together the various facets — education centers, private business and government — of Westchester’s biotech industry to help boost research. In doing so, its organizers say it can build on momentum already propelling the local biotech sector forward.
“There are a lot of things happening at once,” said Joanne Gere, executive director of the Westchester Biotech Project. “You have the billion-dollar-plus investment at North 60 and a really nice cohort of universities such as New York Medical College, and companies like IBM, Regeneron and other smaller companies.”
Gere is also executive director of BioPharma Research Initiatives, a nonprofit based in New Jersey, which supports researchers, engineers and data scientists.
Gere said the Westchester Biotech Project could best be summed up as a community-building initiative. It would provide events and resources to bring people in the industry together.
“There’s a continuum, and you can’t ignore any part of it, but we definitely are focused primarily on research,” Gere said. “So that includes universities and hospitals, along with companies. Any place you can find a white coat.”
“We try to honor the researcher,” Gere said. “Because without research, there would be no new products.”
The Westchester program will be based on one in Durham, North Carolina called the Triangle Biotech Research Symposium, run by the BioPharma Research Council, a sister organization to BioPharma Research Initiatives.
Michael Welling, a partner at Meridian Risk Management in Pelham, will co-chair the Westchester Biotech Project with Gere. The two connected four years ago through LinkedIn and started working together on plans to bring a project to Westchester similar to the one in Durham.
Gere’s experience fit with a vision Welling had for his home county. His interest in medical research comes from personal experience. A decade ago, his 1-year-old son spent six months at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he underwent two stem cell transplants as treatment for a rare condition diagnosed at birth.
He said his son is healthy now, but the experience opened his eyes to the work being done by medical researchers. He shifted to a career in insurance where he felt he could better help life sciences companies. Beyond that, he wanted to try to pull together a program that could help the local research ecosystem.
“Living for six months at the battlefront of where medical science meets the art of medicine,” Welling said, “that’s where it really kind of hit me that the researchers and the people working on this stuff need to be supported as much as anyone else.”
The Westchester Biotech Project will try to do that through a series of roundtable discussions, webinars and a one-day symposium in the fall with researchers from across the region.
Gere said the group is working now to identify challenges in the county’s research community and develop programs around them. New York Medical College, through its BioInc@NYMC life sciences incubator, is a partner in the project, as is the Westchester County Association.
Amy Allen, vice president of the WCA, said the project fit with the business group’s focus on health care.
“Now that the large academic medical systems are here, they produce a lot of research,” Allen said, referring to the Northwell Health, NewYork-Presbyterian and Montefiore health systems that have each expanded their presence in Westchester. “So we see this as a way to add value to their engagement with us.”
The Westchester County Industrial Development Agency approved a $5,000 sponsorship of the project at its April meeting. George Oros, director of the Westchester County Office of Economic Development, said the project provides the county the opportunity to further develop its biotech sector and attract new companies.
The Westchester Biotech Project is planning its first event, a roundtable discussion, for June 7.
Welling said his hope is that by bringing people in the industry together, the county will be able to capitalize on its resources.
“I don’t expect that some of the world’s largest biotech companies are going to uplift their headquarters and move to Westchester,” Welling said. “But we’ve got some of the best and brightest minds in the biotech space who live in Westchester, some of the most active supporters from a financial standpoint here, there’s no reason that biotech companies can’t also have presence here and help us all build our backyard, in addition to all the other communities that are thriving.”