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LI researchers may gain from $40 million state fund for biotech startups

Richard J. Reeder, vice president for research at

Richard J. Reeder, vice president for research at Stony Brook University, said SBU researchers are "poised to make great strides in biodefense."  Credit: Stony Brook University

Biotech companies on Long Island working in the field of infectious diseases could benefit from a new supply of seed money from the state to fund their projects.

Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced the launch of a $40 million Biodefense Commercialization Fund in a bid to "accelerate the development and commercialization of life science research and innovations" to combat infectious diseases. The fund was created in part because of the recent history of New York being one of the worst-hit states by COVID-19, Hochul said.

The idea is to encourage and fund startups and small companies that are building high-quality solutions in diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to prevent, treat or mitigate infectious diseases. Companies across the state can apply for grants of $1 million to $4 million. The fund, administered by Empire State Development Corp., the state's primary business-aid agency, was included in the fiscal year 2022 state budget.

"The Biodefense Commercialization Fund will help the next generation of startups and early-stage companies combat infectious diseases while creating jobs and investment in New York's life science industry," Hochul said in a press statement.

The fund could potentially help startups on Long Island access capital to fast-track product development and reduce time to market, industry experts said. But Long Island companies are bound to face tough competition from other biotech clusters, such as in New York City.

The Biodefense Commercialization Fund is also open to academic institutions, which can apply for $250,000 to $500,000 in grant money.

This will give an opportunity to Long Island’s top five research institutions — Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Stony Brook University and Hofstra University — to propel their research into real-world applications so that the Island could play an enhanced role as a tech hub, the experts said.

"This will have a significant impact on the faculty innovators and emerging companies that work with SBU’s Center for Biotechnology," Richard J. Reeder, vice president for research at Stony Brook University, said in an email. "They are poised to make great strides in biodefense and national health security, and innovations from academic institutions are making the state of New York a safer place for all."

The investment may not generate a lot of jobs in the short run, industry experts said.

"It’s not like running a store where you say, OK, I am going to open 10 stores and then we will have 10 people at every store," said Andrew Whiteley, vice president of business development and technology transfer at Cold Spring Harbor Lab. "Life science companies develop their expertise by thinking through global solutions to big problems. They tend to employ [a] few very talented, very experienced people initially, and as they get bigger then they start to have an impact on local employment."

Whiteley said a top hurdle for biotech startups is commercializing their innovations, which is where funds like these could play a role.

"In the end, the value comes from innovation and once innovation occurs and it can be validated through these kinds of funding, then you can expect such companies to grow and develop quickly and have an impact on the job market in which they operate," said Whiteley.

Companies have submitted applications for the first round of grants; the deadline is Monday. The first grant recipients f will be announced in December, state officials said.

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