Northwestern University Launches New Biotech Accelerator NewCures

Northwestern University

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Universities are increasingly recognizing the need to assist academic researchers in taking promising new research into clinical and commercial development. The typical accelerator offers nascent biotech companies affordable laboratory and office space, shared equipment, and access to business leaders who can provide consulting, as well as networking and access to venture capital funds. Northwestern University’s NewCures launched with a similar approach, with a focus on helping the researchers lay the groundwork for winning venture capital funding.

“There’s a new ecosystem of small biotechs spun from academic research collaborating with larger industry partners,” said Karl Scheidt, NewCures’ executive director, to Northwestern Now. “We’re capitalizing on that. We can’t wait for them to come to us. We need to invite them to the dance, and we need to understand what they’re looking for.”

NewCures has an external advisory board made up of pharma executives, venture capitalists and scientific leaders. They help pick the therapies for the accelerator and how to best invest in the new technologies. Scheidt said, “Having pharma thought leaders as key partners in this program allows us to build the technology together as opposed to the University trying to advance the technology on its own and assume what industry people might want.”

One of the advisory board members is Scott Brun, vice president of scientific affairs and head of AbbVie Ventures. He told Northwestern Now, “You want to make sure you are setting out on the right foot. You need to understand what other therapies are available and in development, and how a discovery can be turned into a treatment that will help patients better than what is already out there. It’s not enough to be new and shiny.”

NewCures is built on an earlier pilot program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. That program was called Compounds for Cures, and supported early discoveries in oncology. Those discoveries formed the framework for NewCures.

Caroline Ko, NewCures’ project leader, told Northwestern Now, “NewCures is the missing step that set the stage for a potential drug to be commercialized and make it into the clinic. We are helping scientists go from bench to bedside with unparalleled support.”

There appears to be a boom in accelerators, many of them promising new business models. Last month, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, an urban office real estate investment company specializing in the life sciences, announced it is expanding its Alexandria LaunchLabs into the East Cambridge, Massachusetts area. Alexandria LaunchLabs is a full-service life science startup platform. The new site opens in September 2018 in One Kendall Square, in Cambridge. It opened its flagship site in June 2017, the Alexandria Center for Life Science—New York City.

Companies that qualify for the site have access to seed capital and mentorship via the Alexandria Seed Capital Platform, a new funding model. Its advisory board includes biopharma and venture capital executives from Accelerator Life Science Partners, ARCH Venture Partners,Eli Lilly and Company, Pfizer Inc. and Roche.

Chris Garabedian, former president and chief executive officer of Sarepta Therapeutics, formed Xontogeny, a biotech accelerator. It was founded in 2016, but on May 18, 2017, closed on a $15 million tranche of a $25 million Series A financing. The accelerator was founded to support life science technology startups. In this case, Garabedian told Xconomy, his accelerator is “targeting drugs that previously have made clinical progress because of only early funding, such as from grants, and often where a lead candidate has already been identified.”

NewCures is located in Northwestern’s Innovations and New Ventures Office. Northwestern has other biomedical development programs as well, including Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) and NIH Center for Accelerated Innovations at Cleveland Clinic (NCAI-C).

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