From Cell to Sell

If a biotech visionary can make it anywhere, then it should be in New York City, a growing chorus of government officials and scientific leaders now say.

Eric Sabo
Nov 21, 2004
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Susumu Nishinga/Photo Researchers, Inc./Andrew Meehan

If a biotech visionary can make it anywhere, then it should be in New York City, a growing chorus of government officials and scientific leaders now say. Nestled among the high-rises and bright lights of Manhattan are several top ranked research institutions and hospitals that are increasingly viewed as the launching pad for business-minded scientists.

Leading the way is Columbia University. The Ivy League school has been one of the most successful major research universities at commercializing drugs and technologies discovered in campus labs. According to a recent survey the Association of University Technology Managers, Columbia made $155.6 million from licensing fees in 2002, compared to the $82 million all nine California Universities made combined. At least 65 biotech companies have also gotten their start at Columbia, including Memory Pharmaceutical, cofounded by Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel. (Memory has since moved out of the city...

TEACHING THE TEACHERS

Some institutions have created teaching efforts designed to impart the skills of entrepreneurship. SUNY Downstate offers a special course called "Entrepreneurship in Academia." The course, says Downstate vice president Eva Cramer, was meant for everyone at the institution. "We had people in the beginning of the course give examples of how they went about taking an idea ...and commercialized it." Course speakers have included PhDs and MDs, and even an orthopedic surgeon who described the process of starting a company to market a device that he improved on.

Rockefeller University also has a lecture series that delves into how science and society combine, including the use of biotech as an engine for economic growth. Although the small Upper East Side university is famed for allowing prominent investigators to focus solely on basic research, Rockefeller recently spun off its first biotech company, Intra-Cellular Therapies.

Tari Suprapto, the managing director of the technology transfer office at Rockefeller, said that the university is willing to assist professors who want to start a biotech company. But she emphasized that Rockefeller is not in the business of promoting entrepreneurship over the pursuit of basic science. "We don't like to force our researchers to do anything," she says.

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