Updated to add comments from Shah
Baiju Shah, for years a central public face in Greater Cleveland’s push to build its life science sector, is leaving his post in the region’s key trade group to lead a biotech commercialization project in the city.
Shah, the founder and longtime CEO of BioEnterprise, will join BioMotiv, the for-profit side of the $250 million Harrington Project for Discovery & Development housed at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, as CEO. BioMotiv and the Harrington Project hope to ease the transition of biotech discoveries across the “valley of death.” Once BioMotiv has developed these molecules, it will license them to pharmaceutical companies or later-stage investors who will commercialize them.
BioMotiv, though connected with the Harrington fund, is in the midst of its own $100 million fundraise “as it builds a portfolio of breakthrough discoveries.”
Shah said the opportunity to lead BioMotiv was appealing because it’s consistent with BioEnterprise’s mission of advancing the Northeast Ohio biomedical industry’s reputation, but also provides a solution for the broken biotech business model. The combination of a nonprofit and for-profit entity can “build a unique bridge across the valley of death,” he said. “We think this is really a national model that addresses a national problem.”
It also allows the native Clevelander to stay in his hometown, which he says was another important factor.
While Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove and wellness guru Dr. Michael Roizen are Greater Cleveland’s highest-profile national healthcare figures, Shah has been the defacto public face for commercialization, public funding and touting the region as a leading healthcare city. Shah’s credited with helping lobby and negotiate between the various factions in the city to draw nearly $900 million in capital to the region. He’s become a quasi celebrity in the business sector, cemented by a monstrous Rolodex and — bizarrely — when the leading local talk radio host regularly mocked Shah for his support of broader immigration policies to attract talent.
This position is good news for Shah — and an amazing opportunity. But it should raise eyebrows for the future of public funding in Ohio. Shah has had multiple opportunities to leave BioEnterprise before. So what will be interesting to follow is the next phase for BioEnterprise (and the public dollars available for the life science sector).
Shah’s departure will likely trigger a re-think of BioEnterprise’s purpose among its core funders, which range from the State of Ohio to many of Cleveland’s civic institutions. Plus, many in the life science sector are expecting a gradual decline in public dollars that have supported efforts to draw venture capitalists and invest in early stage companies. A big part of Shah’s role was working in the state capitol to support public investments in the life science industry and other efforts to attract talent in the region.
Shah said he’s working closely with BioEnterprise’s board, who learned of his departure Tuesday, on a smooth transition, but there is no set plan in place yet.
The organization will continue to push forward with an aggressive goal of moving $250 million in private investment into the area’s biomedical industry by 2020. “The first 10 years were all about making Cleveland a nationally recognized center for biomedical technology; the next 10 years are about helping establish Cleveland as the medical capital,” he said. “That’s where we want to be by 2020.”
As far as what kind of person will fill his shoes at BioEnterprise, Shah was mum. “I wear size 9 shoes,” he jested. “That’s all I can say about that.”
Deanna Pogorelc contributed to this report.