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Biosciences institute aims for $300M endowment

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The effort to launch a life sciences research institute in Indianapolis got $25 million from the Legislature, but the life sciences institutions backing the effort have set their funding sights much higher.

The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute would build up an endowment of $300 million to $400 million over the next five to seven years, under a plan developed by Gov. Mike Pence’s staff, the life sciences group BioCrossroads and a steering committee of life sciences institutions.

Those institutions include Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences LLC, Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc., the state’s research universities and other companies.

The endowment, which would be drawn from corporate and philanthropic sources, would fund annual operations of the institute and help recruit world-class scientists. The most likely focus of the research is diabetes and metabolic diseases.

“We had an amazing response from Indiana’s key life sciences companies,” said Ryan Streeter, Pence’s economic policy adviser. He added, “We’re pretty confident that everybody involved can contribute” to reach the endowment goal.

Pence first touted the idea of the institute in August when he was campaigning to be governor. It was one of several ideas generated earlier in 2012 by meetings convened by BioCrossroads to discuss what should be Indiana’s next step to advance its life sciences industry.

In October, Lilly CEO John Lechleiter embraced the institute idea in a speech at a BioCrossroads conference.

Then in January, Streeter and BioCrossroads CEO David Johnson started working with life sciences companies to flesh out a plan.

They will announce details of that plan in the next month or two, Streeter said. At that time, the board will be named, and then the board will start searching for a founding executive.

An executive with both science and business credentials is the most likely candidate at this point, Streeter said.

The basic idea of the institute is for it to be a place where scientists from both academia and industry collaborate, with a strong emphasis toward innovations that can be commercialized into products, procedures or new companies.

BioCrossroads’ Johnson said he expects the institute to name about five scientists to be principal investigators, who will then oversee the work of other researchers. Total staff could be 50 to 200, he speculated.

However many people work for the institute, they would not likely be all gathered under one roof. Johnson said much of the work would happen virtually. Still, the institute likely will have a physical presence in Indianapolis, although that location has yet to be determined.

Indiana is “late to the party” in starting an applied research institute focused on life sciences, noted a January 2013 report by BioCrossroads. There are similar institutes in Cambridge, Mass.; Chevy Chase, Md.; Kansas City, Mo.; La Jolla, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; San Diego; and in other cities.

Most of those institutes were started with huge philanthropic donations and sustain themselves with a mix of industry and government research funding.

The Indiana Bioscience Research Institute hopes to do something that has yet to be done: launch an institute primarily based on corporate support. The idea is to use the corporate-funded endowment to sustain the institute, and then attract talented researchers that compete successfully for government and industry research grants.

Johnson argues that is the only way to fund an institute these days. Federal research funding has been stagnant for years and doesn’t appear to be headed up any time soon. Meanwhile, he noted, large life sciences companies—especially pharmaceutical firms—have been cutting back on their internal R&D spending and are looking more and more to essentially outsource the work to universities and applied research institutes.

“The life sciences industry is not being rewarded today by investors in the stock market for in-house research,” Johnson said. He added, “That research is going to come from the academic bench or the institution bench, which is going to be bigger than the in-house bench at many life sciences companies. The institute is going to stand in the middle of that.”

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