The Future is Bright For Life Sciences in State of Illinois
CHICAGO – In 2006, Chicago was the home of the successful BIO 2006 conference. I wrote this in a follow-up column: “It was quite an event. More than 19,000 attendees – anywhere from Bill Clinton to biotech graduate students – teemed throughout the cavernous halls of McCormick Place.”
The strong support of many of the large Midwestern drug and device companies was a factor in the success of this conference. Very important, of course, was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s personal encouragement (with both his enthusiasm as well as dollars) along with a push from Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) director Jack Lavin.
The conference also had the goal of sparking a number of initiatives to put Chicago and the Midwest on the map with respect to the growing life sciences industry.
With Abbott Laboratories, Baxter, Takeda and many other major companies, Chicago is no lightweight. Still, there has been the impression that many promising ideas would leave the area for Boston, San Francisco or San Diego when it has come to start-ups and other engines of innovation and growth.
With a fabulous infrastructure, vibrant economic growth, top-notch professional services, a strong financial community and one of the world’s leading centers of life sciences university research, there are all the reasons for start-up and development-stage companies to stay or even come to the Chicago area.
Both city and state leaders recognize that the life sciences sector – with an aging population, innumerable unmet needs in medicine and increasing globalization of pharmaceuticals and medical technology – represents a strong part of commerce for the future. That means lots of meaningful and high-paying jobs.
The 2006 column also focused on one particular aspect of BIO 2006: the rising importance of convergent or combination medical technologies.
By definition, these are technologies that straddle both the device and drug worlds and also incorporate aspects of IT and nanotechnology. In the diagram below, areas of overlap represent potential convergent medical technology applications. The “device” sector is indicated here as “surgical tech”:
While the paradigm for convergent medical technologies (CMT) has been the drug-eluting stent (DES), other areas have also seen recent applications such as implantable insulin delivery pumps and programmable intracardiac defibrillators. However, it is not so easy to develop CMT as there are significant cultural and regulatory differences between the biopharma and device sectors.
So what does this have to do with the Midwest? While there have been a number of significant initiatives pushing biotech forward, the 2006 column touched on how Chicago is especially well poised to help integrate and cross this cultural divide.
Not only are we seeing a renaissance of life sciences in the Chicago area, but more specifically, I would predict that interdisciplinary areas such as CMT (including nanotech and smart devices) will especially find Chicago a congenial area to move forward.
Just one example of the many initiatives that have been spawned from BIO 2006 is the recently unveiled iBIO PROPEL project. iBIO is the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization. Its mission is to strengthen the leadership position of Illinois as a globally recognized life sciences center.
The PROPEL project is an entrepreneurship coaching program designed to facilitate and accelerate the development of management at life sciences start-ups in Illinois. I attended the PROPEL kickoff event last Wednesday, which was written up in the Chicago Tribune.
The day was notable not only because of the importance of the program but also the fact that the kickoff itself brought a remarkable assembly of nearly all the top industry, academic and government leaders together in one room.
While it wasn’t as raucous as the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, you could sense the excitement and enthusiasm in the air. Ultimately it is people and the commitment of people that will be critical to moving PROPEL and innumerable other such initiatives forward.
I had the chance to speak with iBIO President David Miller after the event. We both agreed that the outlook for life sciences in Illinois is truly promising.
“Prospects are strong for the entire state because of the range of applications under development [in Illinois],” Miller said. “What’s new – and the reason I’m so confident – is that we have engineered a phenomenal level of cooperation among the three primary sectors: public, private and education/research.”
Kudos to Miller and to Mayor Daley, Jack Lavin and many others who have helped to bring this spirit of collaboration to reality.
That speaks directly to why Chicago and Illinois are perfectly poised to be the world leader in next-generation convergent medical technologies as well as a major player in life sciences. Progress in our increasingly interconnected technologies can only come through collaboration. We are seeing that in spades in Chicago.
The next mega BIO conference (dare we say “Biopalooza”?) is scheduled to return to Chicago as BIO 2010. That fact alone speaks for itself. It’ll be interesting to see how Chicago and Illinois fit into the growing life sciences landscape at that time.
Dr. Ogan Gurel is chairman of the Aesis Group, which provides consulting services to companies and investment firms in the life sciences and health care sectors. He is also chief medical officer of BlueBob Analytics and an adjunct associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Gurel was previously CEO of Duravest, which is a publicly traded Chicago investment firm that develops next-generation medical technologies. He was previously a vice president and medical director at Sg2. Gurel can be e-mailed at email@example.com.