Editorial: Let’s embrace Elanco’s vision for ‘epicenter’ of animal health

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Rising from the former home of the long-abandoned General Motors Stamping Plant is a vision that could transform Indianapolis. Elanco, the second-largest animal health company in the world, broke ground last week on a $100 million-plus global headquarters.

But as CEO Jeff Simmons likes to point out: The real development is not the physical building but the vision that his company, along with city and state leaders, have to create an epicenter for advancements in animal science.

The aim is for Elanco’s new headquarters to serve as a catalyst for research, development and the creation of new businesses focused on animal health.

It is a big dream. And a lot of things will have to go right to make it happen. But at least Elanco and economic development leaders are taking a first step in that direction. The campus is being developed in collaboration with AgriNovus, the state’s food and agriculture initiative, and venture studio High Alpha.

Take the dream to its greatest heights and Indianapolis could become a biopharma corridor for animal health similar to what’s developed around new discoveries for human health in biotech centers such as Boston, San Diego and San Francisco.

Boston, the behemoth hub, boasts 430 biotech companies. In 2018, the region’s biopharma companies attracted more than $4.8 billion in venture capital investment, up from $900 million in 2012, according to BioSpace.

San Francisco is home to biotech giants AbbVie, Genentech, Amgen, Gilead and Merck. The San Diego-Los Angeles corridor has 3,000 life science companies and 25 research institutions.

Could the synergy around animal health ever generate that kind of investment in Indianapolis? No one will know unless we try.

Simmons readily acknowledges the biotech industry for animal health isn’t nearly as mature as the ecosystem built around human medicine. But that’s what makes the possibilities so vast and so captivating.

“If you can create in our community of Indianapolis the leading community in the world for animal-centered innovators that want to progress and drive things, … there’s going to be a lot of value in that,” Simmons told IBJ Podcast host Mason King.

Simmons sees Elanco’s new HQ as a place where innovators can come and use Elanco’s collaborative makerspace as a venue to get new ideas and new companies off the ground—and maybe even land some funding in the process. He already has examples of how the concept could work.

Earlier this year, Elanco and High Alpha announced seed funding to create and launch Athian, a new venture formed to certify, aggregate, and monetize environmental footprint reductions within the food system.

Last week, Elanco announced the creation of BiomEdit, an animal health microbiome innovation company, in partnership with Boston-based Gingko Bioworks.

BiomEdit is a company that will discover and develop new engineered medicines for animal health based on the microbial communities in animals and the surrounding environment.

The hope is the Elanco headquarters will accelerate the creation of even more companies and more advances in animal health—and that many of those companies will put down roots in Indianapolis because of the supportive infrastructure and creative spirit that is being built here.

Our hope is that the vision becomes a reality.•


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