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Are Universities Creating Too Many Biotech Startups?

* This post was originally published via Xconomy 2/20/14.*



Twitter in Biotech: Today. Tomorrow?

Far from a time sink, I find Twitter to be very useful; not just for “news,” but also to network and develop productive work relationships.

I appreciate Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman putting me on his Who Should Biotech Pros Follow on Twitter? An Update for 2013 list.  I’m not sure I’m worthy, however!

I created a Twitter account October 26, 2009 to follow John Calipari.  Soon I figured out I could use Twitter for work related information, too.  My sixth and seventh follows were Daphne Zohar and Bruce Booth, respectively (both behind A Plea for Purging, though).

The real value in Twitter, I find, is this; connecting to people with similar interests, then making a real world connection.  But I am also curious how we’ll use it in the future.

Luke was the 29th person I followed.  After some Twitter interaction, Luke and I met in person in San Francisco; first at the BIO Investor Forum 2011 then later that week at Computing in the Age of the $1,000 Genome.  I also attended The Immunex Impact: An Xconomy Forum that Luke moderated in December 2011.  We’ve met on several occasions since then.  Being from the upper Midwest, Luke has empathy for biotech in the middle 1/3 of the U.S., I think.  Luke’s been nothing but helpful to me.

Working from Luke’s 2012 Who Should Life Science Pros Follow on Twitter?, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the value of Twitter currently using people on the list I’ve met in person as a framework.

@RyanMFierce Ryan McBride:  Ryan and I connected briefly at Xconomy’s Boston Biotech Seizes the Momentum.  We photobombed this picture.  Circulating photobombed pictures is a good use of Twitter.

With Ryan

Ryan is a great source of news and information, too.

@Michael_Gilman Michael Gilman:  I met Michael just long enough to shake his hand at the Boston 2012 BIO Convention Tweetup.

If Twitter had hair, I’d give it a mullet; “business in the front, party in the back.”  Meaning, mostly professional content, but a little personality, too.  For me, getting a glimpse of someone’s personality and interests is what makes Twitter useful and fun.  Michael’s Twitter feed is both useful and fun.

@scientre Laura Strong:  I also officially met Laura for the first time at the Boston 2012 BIO Convention Tweetup.  Unofficially, I’m pretty sure someone introduced us at either MidAmerica Healthcare Venture Forum 2009 in Madison or 2010 in Detroit.

Laura and I have many common interests, including biotech economic development away from the coasts.  It’s not uncommon for us to have an e-mail conversation going outside of public tweets.  Here’s an example of the outgrowth of one of those conversations; Active Life Science VCs & Twitter: Correlation? Causation? Randomness?  Plus, we share information and ideas.  And networks.

@LifeSciVC Bruce Booth:  If memory serves, I believe Bruce and I met for the first time at URES 2012.  Like many, I’m a big fan of Bruce’s blog posts.  Rock star, right?

Here’s the thing, though; he let’s me periodically bounce ideas off him for feedback and helps make introductions.  That’s solid.

Continuing on to Luke’s Who Should Biotech Pros Follow on Twitter? An Update for 2013 list…

@mkoeris Michael Koeris:  Mike and I had been tweeting for a while before we met in Cambridge in April 2013.

Mike and I conspire often via non-Twitter forms of communication, too.  Mike introduced me to a fellow Kentucky native, Emily Walsh.  I may have never made that connection but for networking via Twitter.  Mike’s always good for an introduction.  Or opinion, which I value!

@kevintoshio Kevin Chow:  I met Kevin for breakfast in October 2012 while I was in Seattle for the WBBA 2012 Governor’s Life Science Summit and Annual Meeting.  Kevin and I had communicated via Twitter and e-mail previously, too.

Kevin’s made introductions and shared information.  Even on kids’ bikes!

@bmgallagherjr Brian Gallagher:  I also met Brian for the first time at URES 2012.  We have a mutual friend; a guy I went to undergrad with at Transylvania University and Brian attended grad school with at Michigan.

Brian has never failed to answer a question or provide critical feedback any time I’ve asked for it.

@davidasteinberg David Steinberg:  David and I met at the Boston 2012 BIO Convention, but we had connected on Twitter, e-mail and phone before that.  Always helpful (all the folks at PureTech that I’ve talked to have been great, for that matter).

A direct outcome of that meeting; KNODE & the University of Louisville Announce Partnership.

Which is a good segue…

I use KNODE to include profiles of UofL PIs in tweets.  Related, I’m fascinated by altmetrics.  “Can Tweets Predict Citations?”  Yes, apparently.  Can you help drive that with KNODE?  “Guerrilla marketing” scholarly links to get the word out.

Twitter is good for tapping into the crowd to get thoughts on a particular topic or question.  Examples; Biz plans; do VCs read them? and Great team.  The second example uses Peerin.  Peerin is another great Twitter-related tool.

Twitter is cheaper than a plane ticket.  It’s great to follow conferences and meetings via hashtags.  People often think I’m at meetings even though I’m sitting in Louisville.

Often I’ll use a combination of Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail, especially when I’ve seen a person tweet something related to a project via a conference hashtag.  See the tweet, look them up on LinkedIn, find an e-mail address.  Which is a mild form of cyberstalking, I guess.  But it works.

Louisville is not exactly the hotbed of biotech, so I use whatever resources I can.

Will a Gnip for biotech emerge?  “Big data monitors 12 terabytes of tweets each day to improve product sentiment analysis,” according to the Data Science at NYU website.

What will be the innovative new ways to use Twitter in biotech?

Altmetrics, access and repositories.

This was done with Storify.

You can read it here.

How might genomic/genetic sequence data play into this?


Louisville, aging care & “biotech”

This was done with Storify.

You can read it here.

According to  Greater Louisville Inc., The Metro Chamber of Commerce, Louisville’s economic development niche industries include Lifelong Wellness and Aging Care, Life Sciences, Logistics and Pharmacy Supply Chain.  Each of those can be interrelated.  And combined, could create a bigger whole.

Postscript to #xconBio

This was done with Storify.

You can read it here.

The guy on the right, gray sport coat, back turned; that’s me talking to @RyanMFierce.

My back

Bioscience Industry in Louisville Metro

Business First published a list of the area’s largest bioscience and medical technology companies ranked by number of local employees on February 22, 2013. I thought it was a good time to do a bit of a deep dive on the bioscience industry in Louisville Metro. As much as possible “standardized” data and definitions were used.  The goal of this post is to be informative and descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive.

Again, in an effort to keep things “standardized,” data was derived from SBIRSource, the Kentucky Secretary of State, BATTELLE/BIO STATE BIOSCIENCE INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENT 2012, the IRSKentucky Business & Industry Information System (KBIIS) and VentureSource. If investment did not show up in VentureSource I did not include it. That does not mean companies have not received funding from sources not picked up by or reported to VentureSource. I’ve also noted companies that have an affiliation with the University of Louisville.  I omitted a few chemical companies that fell in the Agricultural Feedstock & Chemicals NAICS group that were divisions of larger corporations and didn’t seem to be a direct fit.  Also not included because Battelle/BIO did not include them in their definition–ophthalmic goods manufacturing and dental laboratories.  It is worth noting, however that Louisville has several dental laboratories of somewhat significant size; a mini-cluster, perhaps.

Included are companies that appear in a Kentucky Business & Industry Information System (KBIIS) search using NAICS codes from the Battelle/BIO definition below:

BIO definition of Bioscience Industry

Companies are graphed below by 2012 reported employment (click on it for a larger view).

Biotech in Louisville MSA

By employment, Louisville’s largest bioscience industry subsector is bioscience-related distribution. According to the Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development 2012 report, bioscience-related distribution is Kentucky’s largest bioscience industry subsector.

Companies in this subsector include BIO PHARMA LOGISTICS, LLCAMGEN, INC., GENENTECH, INC., STRYKER ORTHOPAEDICS, JOM PHARMACEUTICAL SERVICES, INC.H.D. SMITH WHOLESALE DRUG CO.RECOVERCARE, LLC, RXCROSSROADS and PCA PHARMACY. Louisville is home to the UPS Worldport global air hub. From the Louisville air hub, packages can reach 80% of the world’s population within 48 hours. UPS Healthcare Logistics has a strategic location near the Louisville air hub. Eurofins MWG Operon Inc. has recently opened a sequencing facility in Louisville because of the presence of the UPS Worldport. Louisville’s central location–within a day’s drive of 2/3 of the U.S. population–combined with the UPS Worldport make it well suited for bioscience-related distribution.

Excluding bioscience-related distribution, most of the bioscience companies in Louisville Metro have less than 35 employees. According to the Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development 2012 report, bioscience companies in Kentucky have, on average, 12 employees.

At least 11 of the 15 non-bioscience-related distribution companies have some affiliation with the University of Louisville.

Louisville doesn’t have a true biotech anchor tenant–yet. Quoting Luke Timmerman in his article, U.S. Biotech Clusters Are Losing Their Anchor Tenants, and It Hurts, “a biotech anchor tenant provides public visibility and becomes a source of regional pride and support. You can’t expect the broader public to get excited, or support an industry in any way, when the local area only has 100 little bootstrapped companies no one has ever heard of.” Not having a biotech anchor tenant hurts Louisville in many ways.  Probably the biggest way involves people, or the lack thereof. Related, see these two blog posts by Bruce Booth; Boston: #1 Cluster for Early Stage Biotech and The Entrepreneurial Diaspora Enabled By Biotech M&A.

Obviously Louisville is not a major bioscience hub like San Francisco or Boston. A recent report by Jones Lang LaSalle says Louisville is neither an established nor emerging life science cluster. Southern Wisconsin is an emerging cluster according to this report (note: some may question this report’s methodology).

Jones Lang LaSalle

Let’s look at Madison, WI.  In a ranking of Metropolitan Statistical Areas based on 2010 Census population data, the Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN MSA ranked 42Madison, WI MSA 89. According to AUTM, 2011 total research expenditures for University of Wisconsin-Madison were approximately $1.1 billion. 2011 total research expenditures for the University of Louisville were approximately $197 million [a 2011 article ranked UofL 4th on a list of top 100 universities in biggest gains in federal funding for R&D in sciences and engineering for the period 1999-2009]. The following table is taken from By the Numbers: Madison Biotech Employment by Laura Strong:

Madison biotech

Wisconsin was recently featured in an Xconomy article, as well; The Wisconsin Biotech Story: Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

Additional descriptions in order of reported employment…

  • ENDOPROTECH, INC.‘s founders are UofL faculty and the technology is licensed from UofL. The company has received approximately $1.4 million in SBIR/STTR awards. Endoprotech also received $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants. It was founded in 2005.
  • VIVORTE (DE), INC. was founded in 2010. Its scientific founder is a UofL faculty member.
  • SEQUELA, INCORPORATED, founded in 2007, has received approximately $2.9 million in SBIR/STTR awards. The founder is a UofL alum.
  • SCR, INC. was founded in 2007. It has received approximately $4.4 million in SBIR/STTR awards. UofL faculty members are listed as consultants to the company.
  • ADVANCED CANCER THERAPEUTICS, LLC has received, since its founding in 2007, $10.7 million in investment and $158,000 in SBIR/STTR awards. All investors appear to be in Kentucky. It is affiliated with the James Graham Brown Cancer Center and has licensed IP from UofL.
  • TURBO WHEELCHAIR COMPANY, INC., founded in 2002, has received $1.6 million in SBIR/STTR awards.
  • LOUISVILLE BIOSCIENCE, INC was organized in 2008. It has received $600,000  in SBIR/STTR awards. It is UofL affiliated.
  • APOVAX, INC. was originally incorporated in 2001. It has received $5.6 million in investment and $5.5 million in SBIR/STTR awards. ApoVax also received $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants. All investors are in Kentucky. The company is based on the work of UofL faculty, with IP licensed from UofL.
  • BFW, INC. was organized in 1994.
  • APELLIS PHARMACEUTICALS, INC., founded in 2009, has received $8.7 million in investment. It received $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants. The Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer/President is a UofL alum. Apellis is a Louisville diaspora success story. The founding team was part of POTENTIA PHARMACEUTICALS, INC., which struck a deal with Alcon in 2009.
  • PHARMACOGENETICS DIAGNOSTIC LABORATORY, LLC, organized circa 2004, has received $4.6 million in SBIR/STTR awards. It was founded by UofL faculty and has licensed technology from UofL.
  • PEPTIDES INTERNATIONAL, INC. was incorporated in 1983 by a UofL faculty member. The company has received $1.1 million in SBIR/STTR awards. It may be the oldest biotech company in Louisville.
  • 3DR LABORATORIES, LLC, created in 2004, has received approximately $11.2 million in investment, a significant portion from outside of Kentucky. Not a direct technology connection to UofL, but it was a spinout of MetaCyte Business Lab. And UofL alums are employed by the company.
  • US WORLDMEDS, LLC, founded circa 2001, received $ 244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Credits. US WorldMeds is somewhat of a funding anomaly, in a good way.
  • CREOSALUS INC. was founded in 2004. Also a bit of an anomaly from a financing perspective.

Several bioscience companies in Louisville Metro did not show up on KBIIS. They include (and this is most likely not a definitive list):

  • ADVANCED GENOMIC TECHNOLOGY, LLC, organized in 2005. It has received $1.8 million in SBIR/STTR awards and $ 244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants. It is UofL affiliated.
  • GNARUS SYSTEMS, INC., founded 2009, is based on work of a UofL faculty member.
  • INTREPID BIOINFORMATICS SOLUTIONS, INC. is based on the work of a UofL faculty member.  It was created in 2006.
  • NAUGANEEDLES, LLC has received $858,000 in SBIR/STTR awards. It was founded in 2007 by a UofL alum.
  • NEURONETRIX, INC. has received $127,000 in SBIR/STTR awards.
  • NX PHARMAGEN INC., organized in 2010, has licensed technology from UofL.
  • REGENEREX LLC has received $6.3 million in SBIR/STTR awards. It was founded in 2002. The company also received $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants.  It is UofL affiliated.
  • RHINOCYTE, INC., founded in 2005 by UofL faculty with technology licensed from UofL, has received approximately $4.5 million in investment. It also received $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Grants.
  • SUREGENE, LLC, organized circa 2005, has received $1.6 million in SBIR/STTR awards and $244,479 in Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Credits.
  • TNG PHARMACEUTICALS, INC. began at the University of Louisville in the Entrepreneurship MBA program.

It’s helpful to look at macro biotech funding data.

The table below is from Early Stage Biotech Showing Positive Signs of Scaling Its Wall of Worry. In summary, it indicates that deals are getting done.

Biotech by round

In 2012, the average size of a biopharma Series A financing was $14.5 million, according to data in the January 2013 issue of START-UP. The average size of a diagnostics Series A was $9.0 million. The average size of a medical device Series A was $5.7 million.

Based on VentureSource data, most bioscience companies in Louisville are not doing Series A financings near the averages. “[B]iotechs given anorexic venture diets are unlikely to be healthy drivers of innovation,” Bruce comments in Early Stage Biotech Financing: Fewer, Leaner, and Better?

SBIR/STTR awards alone are probably not enough; see a related discussion here. Angels and angel funds likely aren’t enough, either, but they can provide funds to mitigate risks at the startup stage; a related discussion here.

For more context, however, if you look at VentureSource data for Louisville for all industries between the years 2008-2012, you see that bioscience companies more than held their own. 35 Louisville companies–including buyouts, debt, and so forth–were financed between the years 2008-2012. Of those 35, 9 are bioscience industry companies–26% of VentureSource financings for Louisville. If you throw in LABSCO’s acquisition by Frazier Healthcare

The bioscience industry in Louisville Metro has its challenges. We do have a foundation to build on, however. Hopefully, in some small way, this post helps us by looking at what we’ve got. If we know where we stand, we can start to talk about how we build for the future.

Also, I’d welcome discussion, as well as corrections and additions.

The Biotech Startup Class of 2012: How many received SBIR/STTR awards?

The Biotech Startup Class of 2012: How many received SBIR/STTR awards? Read it here on Storify.

SBIR table


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