Indiana life science players have adapted to pandemic, panelists say

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Unlike other sectors of the economy that have been battered by the pandemic, including restaurants, travel and hospitality,  life science organizations seem to have largely weathered the lockdown, with some even raising records funds, taking on huge expansions, hiring new employees and reporting higher productivity.

That was consensus of a group of speakers Friday morning at the IBJ Life Sciences Power Panel, representing large corporations, research institutions and startups.

Companies have learned to operate in remote settings, through video conferences, email and other technologies.

“It’s a virtual world,” said Jeff Simmons, president and CEO of Elanco Animal Health, a Greenfield-based maker of animal vaccines and feeds for livestock and pets. “We feel we’re at least 25% more productive. So the tragedy would be coming out of COVID and not keeping a lot of the silver lining of what we’ve learned.”

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The Indiana University School of Medicine pulled down more than $213 million in grant funding last year from the National Institutes of Health, a record amount for the school for the fifth straight year.

And researchers are busy trying to win more funding to help with new research into tough diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, said Tatiana Foroud, the medical school’s executive associate dean for research affairs.

“People have learned to be productive in different settings,” she said. “Now that we’re back in the laboratories, there’s a lot more work in the laboratories, but also a lot of time thinking of new grants and new papers we can work on.”

The medical school also conducted clinical trials for an experimental vaccine for COVID-19 by AstraZeneca, which has been widely used around the world but has not yet been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The 16 Tech innovation district has spent much of the pandemic doing construction work. The first building, housing the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute and some labs from the IU School of Medicine, opened in August. A second building opening in March.

The district now has 20 tenants, half of them life-science operations, said Bob Coy, president and CEO of the district’s parent corporation. The district is also planning to break ground this year on a residential building that would have about 300 units.

It is currently planning a small bridge over Fall Creek to connect the 16 Tech district with the IUPUI campus, and provide access to numerous trails for pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and wheelchairs.

“In some ways we were very lucky, because if our buildings had opened before the pandemic, it would be very difficult to recruit tenants,” Coy said. “But instead, we were constructing during the pandemic, and now we’re opening up just as the economy is opening up again.”

Some new life-science companies were able to take shape during the pandemic, including GenePace Laboratories, a molecular testing startup formed in November that is housed at 16 Tech. The company has managed to hire about 10 people and book enough business to keep its lab going, said Sanjay Malkani, one of the company’s co-founders.

“It’s obviously a devastating time for humanity,” Malkani said. “But what’s interesting about the time is that leaders are coming together between small companies, education, major corporate players and government-supported entities.”

He added: “It’s nice to see this kind of focus and collaboration that’s possible. It is easier than ever for any of us to contact each other and begin working on something that is critical for humanity.”

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