10 Reasons to Keep an Eye on Chicago Biotech in 2023


Chicago isn’t necessarily synonymous with its spot as a biopharma hotbed - however, due to new investments, governmental support, collaborations and prominent academic institutions, this is changing.  

Made up of 77 community areas, Chicago is the third-largest city in the country by population. The larger Chicagoland or Chicago metropolitan area includes suburbs that stretch across more than a dozen counties and include parts of Indiana and Wisconsin. The heart of the BioMidwest hotbed, Chicago is home to 185 pharma companies and other related life-sciences businesses, with several up-and-coming firms on the rise. 

BioSpace lists the top 10 reasons to keep an eye on the Windy City in 2023.  

1. Investment Capital 

The Windy City and its suburbs rank highest in jobs, fifth with 87,918 according to the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBIO). The region ranks ninth in three other criteria: NIH funding (2,568 awards totaling $1.234 billion), patents (1,755) and VC funding ($989.57 million in 2019 and 2020). 

Additionally, venture capitalists are taking notice of the burgeoning hotbed in Chicago. Total venture investment in medtech increased nearly 60 percent from $5.8 billion to $9.0 billion in 2021, a trend on the rise since 2018. 

2. New Biotech Firms Moving In 

Xeris Biopharma, which moved to Chicago from Texas in 2020, and Talis Biomedical, which came to the city from California in 2021 have both moved into spaces at Trammell Crow Co.’s Fulton Labs development. As new firms compete for high-quality talent, this makes this city an ideal market for job seekers. Considering 2023 is expected, according to data collected by Biospace, to make for a competitive job market after a slower-than-usual fourth quarter, new firms equal new jobs. 

3. New Start-Ups  

Fledgling biotech companies such as Xeris and Evanston-based Aptinyx went public in 2018 alongside other local life sciences startups - an indication of investors’ mounting interest in the city’s biotech scene, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Vanqua Bio, which launched in 2021 with $85 million in Series B financing, provides an instructive example of a start-up gone “right.” The company is focused on developing next-generation medicines for neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer’s and ALS. Other startups to watch include Oxalo Therapeutics and Onchilles Pharma.  

4. Life Sciences is Integral to Chicagoland Economy 

Illinois is home to over 817 life sciences establishments in the pharmaceutical, medical device and agriculture industries that directly employ more than 41,000 people

5. Established Biotech Firms 

The Chicago area is home to established biotech and pharmaceutical companies like Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie, Baxter Healthcare, and Hospira as well as homegrown start-ups like Nanosphere and Ohmx. Proximity to these firms provides built-in networks and mentorship for start-ups looking to settle.   

Several of these firms boast Chicagoland open job listings on BioSpace.  

6. Wet Lab Expansion 

A new 125,000-square-foot facility in Lincoln Park includes state-of-the-art wet lab space and other facilities to house life sciences companies - the first development of this kind since 2012.  

John Conrad, president and chief executive officer of iBIO, told BioSpace in September the area is “seeing exponential growth” in new business and a 33% increase in the talent pool. 

Several projects across the region have expanded wet lab space over the past several years. These include the Fulton Labs and Portal Innovations facility which is designed to support startups. Fulton Labs is also the home of iBIO. 

7. Government-backed Funding Initiatives 

In 2021, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a $15.4 million investment in a capital program that supports the development of eight new spaces across the state. The investment will fund $90 million worth of wet lab expansions across Illinois, according to the governor’s office. The initiative, known as the “Rebuild Illinois Wet Lab Capital Program,” aims to expand access to lab space to incubators, corporations, university researchers, and start-ups, under the condition that the recipients must match state funding.  

The grants support the development of projects at universities and incubators. Chicagoland recipients include Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) in Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and NuMat Technologies in Skokie. 

9. Strong Academic Pipelines & Research Availability

Cook County, which includes Chicago, is home to three major research universities: Northwestern, University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago. Because of the proximity to these 

research institutions and incubators, the majority of the startup community in Illinois is located in Chicago. 

Pharmaceutical companies benefit from conducting their trials at the states’ highly respected university medical schools, comprehensive cancer centers and clinical trial research centers.  

Chicago is home to a number of the nation’s top research-oriented medical  schools, University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, Northwestern University’s 

Feinberg School of Medicine, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Rush University 

College of Medicine and the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University ranked.  

10. Key Collaborations 

Chicago-based AbbVie has renewed its collaboration with the University of Chicago, extending the relationship out to 2025 after spending the past five years working on activities including the development of novel drug delivery approaches. 

In Sum 

Between top-notch academic institutions, solid venture capital funding, expanding lab space and governmental support (in regulation and in funding), the opportunity for a strong web of collaborations exists to make Chicago a true hotbed for biotech growth.   

BioSpace has more than 700 job listings currently in place in the Chicagoland area at AbbVie, Amgen, CSL Behring, Lundbeck and Pfizer to name a few.  

As 2023 promises to be a year with a good deal of movement in the job market space, particularly as Q1 rebounds from a slower-than-usual end-of-the year hiring phase, there are many opportunities for high-quality professionals and top companies to partner together to strengthen Chicagoland as a biotech stronghold.  

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