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LI biotech and life science companies seek private funding to reach full potential

Rep. Thomas Suozzi discusses the 495 Research Corridor

Rep. Thomas Suozzi discusses the 495 Research Corridor on Hi Tech Island during a Biotechnology & Life Sciences Conference at LIU on Monday in Greenvale. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Long Island’s cluster of biotechnology and life science companies, already heavily supported by federal grants, needs an infusion of private sector dollars to meet their full potential, Rep. Thomas Suozzi and industry leaders said Monday at a conference in Greenvale.

Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) brought together established research institutions and startups at LIU Post to conceive of ways to make Long Island a national hub for life sciences.

The region, he said, already has a “research corridor” along the Long Island Expressway that includes Cold Spring Harbor Lab and Stony Brook Universities to the east and Hofstra University, Northwell Health and the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research to the west in Nassau.

The state receives $2.2 billion in National Institutes of Health grants — third most in the country behind California and Massachusetts — with about $1.7 billion going downstate to New York City, Long Island and Westchester.

But venture capital remains elusive. For every federal dollar that state research institutions receive, only 12 cents comes from the private sector, Suozzi said.

“That’s the big disconnect,” Suozzi said, adding that the challenge is to take “these fantastic, internationally known institutions” that already get federal funds and infuse them with funds from the private sector.

Suozzi and others suggested creating an inventory of regional biotech and life science companies, hosting an event that would allow company leaders to share ideas and creating a Long Island venture capital fund that will encourage investments in startups.

But John Preston, founder of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, said small-dollar investors must also be encouraged to get in on the ground floor to back growing companies.

“Right now only the ultrarich are getting invited to do the founding investment,” Preston said. “Wall Street is looking for larger and larger transactions and venture capitalists are looking for larger and larger transactions.”

Joe Scaduto, founder of Traverse Biosciences at Stony Brook University, a firm that commercializes drug candidates for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and age-related conditions, proposed a “big audacious goal” for area research firms to start 50 new companies in the next five years.

“We need 10 entrepreneurs a year to identify technologies emerging from these institutions,” he said. “A lot of them will fail but some of them will be successful.”

Peter Donnolly, managing director of the Accelerate NY Seed Fund, which supports downstate science and technology-based ventures, said the key is to develop “homegrown” businesses that will then entice others to want to move to the region.

“We can and should recruit companies to come here,” said Donnolly, who also serves as director of technology commercialization at Stony Brook University, “but it’s no substitute for growing them here where they can establish roots and want to stay here.”

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