With a CEO hired and a soon-to-be signed lease for office space, the $360 million Indiana Biosciences Research Institute is ready to lift off.
The institute, which already has $50 million in state and corporate support and aims to recruit more than 150 scientists focused on metabolic diseases, has named longtime pharmaceutical executive David Broecker as CEO.
Broecker, 54, has spent the last year as president and chief operating officer of the institute, helping to develop its processes and governance structures, while also leading two biotech startups.
Broecker also is negotiating with Indiana University to lease 25,000 square feet in the IU Biotechnology Research & Training Center at 1345 W. 16th St. The 82,000-square-foot building opened in 2003 and includes lab space for as many as 43 researchers.
Beginning this summer, that building will be the temporary home of the institute while a developer, Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology, studies the feasibility of developing an “innovation district” as part of the 16 Tech area, with the institute as an anchor tenant.
Abbe Hohmann, a local land broker, said having the institute in 16 Tech will be “pivotal” for sparking other development and investment along Indiana Avenue between 10th and 16th streets—an area city leaders have been trying to develop as a life sciences corridor for a dozen years.
“A research institute such as this becomes a catalyst for other development,” she said. “There’s some momentum that gets created around a research facility.”
The institute is the next big step in central Indiana’s long-running effort to build a thriving cluster of businesses based on breakthroughs in medical and agricultural science. It has received support—both in money and in employee time—from nearly all of Indiana’s major life sciences companies and institutions.
Its supporters include Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics Corp., Cook Group Inc., Dow AgroSciences LLC, Indiana University Health and Biomet Inc., as well as the state’s major research universities: IU, Purdue and Notre Dame.
Scientists recruited to the institute would have a joint appointment at one of those research institutes, and would have graduate students and post-doctoral students working with them. The Indiana University School of Medicine estimates it takes about $1.5 million to recruit each scientist.
Broecker already has been working to recruit scientists over the past year. He said he compiled a list of researchers mentioned by the institute’s partner companies that they would be interested in working with, and he has started to recruit them.
But having actual lab and office space to show to scientists will help that process, Broecker said.
“Up until this point, we haven’t even had a lab to show a researcher where their home will be,” he said. “If we get a lab, get a building, begin to be able to provide a tour for a researcher, I think we will be able to attract talent.”
Broecker said the market for recruiting medical researchers is good right now. That’s because funding from the National Institutes of Health has been flat for years, making it harder for younger scientists to get research funding. The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, also called the IBRI, is being built on the premise that corporate funding can help fill that gap.
“Especially for rising-star researchers, competition for initial funding takes longer,” Broecker wrote in an email, noting that the average age at which a researcher wins one of the NIH’s main grants, called an R01 grant, is 42 years old. “By design as an industry-led institute, the IBRI will be driven by collaborations and projects with companies and start-ups.”
The institute’s partners selected Broecker even though they initially said they would look for an experienced research scientist as CEO. Broecker, an Indiana native, earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but has never worked as a researcher.
Broecker started his career at Lilly in the mid-1980s, helping with the medical device division that later became Guidant Corp., running Lilly’s business in Germany and Ireland, and helping launch such drugs as Prozac and Zyprexa.
In 2001, he became president and later CEO of Alkermes Inc., a biotech company in the Boston area. Under Broecker’s leadership, Alkermes helped Johnson & Johnson launch a biweekly version of its anti-psychotic drug Risperdal.
Broecker resigned suddenly in 2009 after a series of setbacks at Alkermes. He returned to Indianapolis, serving as president of Harlan Laboratories for a time. He also helped to launch four startups: BioCritica, Zorion Medical, DiaCarta and Apex Therapeutics.
But Broecker’s background is quite different from that of leaders of similar research institutes, which tend to have scientists at the helm.
For example, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has Eric Lander, one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, as its CEO. The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in California is led by Dr. Perry Nisen, a cancer researcher who led teams of researchers at Abbott Laboratories and GlaxoSmithKline plc. The Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis is led by Jim Carrington, a genetics researcher.
But the institute’s leaders ultimately decided it was more critical to have someone who could work well with industry partners.
“It will not work at all if the industry side of it doesn’t have its interests and its mission and vision in the leadership of the institute,” said David Johnson, CEO of BioCrossroads, the life sciences business development group that has overseen development of the institute.
He added, “We will probably get more than just the initial companies involved. So it is very important for the relationships to understand what’s going to motivate them to give significant projects to the institute.”
Steve Webb, who is head of external research and development for Dow AgroSciences, said Broecker’s work with startups is precisely what the institute needs at this stage.
“You need a proven leader with the ability to build something,” he said. “It’s really the catalyst I think for getting us to the next level.” •