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EDITORIAL: With a great vision, support, Delaware life sciences can thrive

Katie Tabeling
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Delaware Business Times Editor Katie Tabeling looks at the challenges many bioscience start-up companies face that seek to push boundaries in medical and scientific research.| DBT PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL BRANSCOM/PRELUCE THERAPEUTICS

Roughly four years ago, we spoke with many bioscience stakeholders in Delaware about the need for more advanced lab space to ensure that start-ups stay rooted and flourish in the First State.

Back then, the challenge was lack of space when our neighbors in Philadelphia were on target to bring 1.5 million square feet of new lab space within years. The Delaware Innovation Space and the Delaware Technology Park have been working tirelessly to open access. Some have signed deals with realtors to bring in companies while others have launched  partnerships with developers to bring more lab space online. 

Of course, the Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park marked a major milestone with Prelude Therapeutics cutting the ribbon of its headquarters in early February. Soon, Solenis’s research facility will follow.

But despite these successes, there are still challenges ahead for many of our start-up companies that seek to push boundaries in medical and scientific research and hope to change the world. It’s a costly endeavor, with millions of dollars and years spent on developing and testing a vast drug pipeline. 

Much of the funding comes from the private sector, and the costs quickly outpace the public funds. An eye-opening report from the Bentley University’s Center for Integration of Science and Industry found that the  U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent $8.1 billion on phased clinical trials on drugs between 2010 and 2019. 

That was about 10% of what the pharma and biotech industry spent in close to the same period.

Delaware Bioscience Association President Michael Fleming and I discussed the chicken-and-the-egg dilemma many founders are facing. To continue to develop cutting-edge treatments to cure cancer and other serious issues, companies need to secure funding, but investors need to be patient to see results.

Fleming noted while the competition was fierce among venture funding, especially with larger name companies. But there are some benefits to our location in the Philadelphia region and being from a small state. It expedites opportunities to be seen by local and regional investors and funds – and with the second annual Life Sciences Conference on May 9 will provide that chance.

“We’re partnering with the Innovation Space on an investor forum, bringing in representatives from companies to talk about the things they expect and what they’re most interested in seeing from companies at different stages,” he said. “We’ve also got all these resources to help work together to educate and inform smaller companies to guide them on what it takes to build a compelling business plan and strategy to catch investor’s eyes.”

But beyond that, it’s also critical to forge partnerships with nonprofit and academic institutions to help lift these companies up. There’s companies like Cellergy Pharma that have partnered with Nemours Children’s Health on the technology and  the gene-editing drug firm CorriXR Therapeutics that spun out of ChristianaCare.

“There’s an interesting element about these collaborations with research institutions, and it’s something I hope we see grow in the future,” he said.

I had the pleasure of speaking with many life science company leaders about this issue, and I found myself regretting that I did not have enough space to write more in-depth for all their stories. All shared a sense of optimism about Delaware’ life science scene, from its close proximity to our leaders that make game-changing decisions to building a team driven by the mission to treat underserved patients, making a difference ideally one life at a time.

Many also didn’t think being in a small state was a hindrance to success. With the advent of modern technology, virtual meetings make it possible to meet within moments instead of waiting for a calendar opening.

Prelude Therapeutics CEO Kris Vaddi shared his passion for changing someone’s life with a future product from his company – a vision he believes is critical for any new company to succeed, no matter where the team members are.

“Geographically, the world has changed so much and I find it to be for the better. It’s allowed us to have teams in different locations, so theoretically you can have the best possible team rather than the team that was willing to relocate,” he said.

The road may be hard, but without innovators like ones who shared their stories with us interested in changing the status quo, it would be even harder for current and future patients. 

With the right support and new ideas to break barriers and our borders, I believe that many of these risk-takers will soon bring many success stories to Delaware soon.

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