Accelerator opens an NYC hub with $51 million in backing from Pfizer, J&J, Lilly to build new life sciences startups

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NY Accelerator

Seattle’s Accelerator Corp. is expanding into New York City with $51.1 million in capital – and plans to raise more – to scout out life sciences innovators and entrepreneurs to form new biotechs based in the Big Apple. The funding comes from a number of high-profile backers, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.

Accelerator – the first accelerator to call itself an “accelerator,” according to CEO Thong Le – was created in 2003, and has since developed 12 early-stage biotechs in the Seattle area. Following its Seattle model, the New York Accelerator will provide venture capital and lab space for the fledgling companies, as well as scientific guidance and management acumen.

The funding comes from returning investors including Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners and WRF Capital. It also is being financed by new strategic investors Eli Lilly, Harris & Harris Group, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., The Partnership Fund for New York City and Pfizer Venture Investments.

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Despite the backing from some of the world’s largest pharma players, the biotechs will not have to immediately cede equity to the accelerator’s backers. Because none of these parties have any preemptive rights, the pharmas “won’t have any advanced sort of options that would taint a company going forward,” Le said. This means no preferential treatment toward any one mega-company.

“We have the benefit to peer at biotechs with the eyes of J&J, Eli Lilly, look at tech from the perspective of Pfizer – we have many bright minds at the table,” Le said. “But because we have not just one viewpoint but multiple viewpoints, the direction of the companies can be balanced and tempered.”

The accelerator’s second flagship location will be in the Alexandria Center for Life Science, which happens to be the city’s first and only science park. It’s in Manhattan’s East Side Medical Corridor.

Thanks to Accelerator’s heavy focus on translational research, it will partner with a number of top-notch institutions, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York University, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College.

The accelerator is willing to be flexible with the funding doled out to the startups – from $50,000 to demonstrate proof of concept to “multimillions,” Le said, as the backers have a “fair amount of confidence” in the variety of startups Accelerator selects.

“We’re just looking to build companies that meet a really strong unmet need – that have something quite compelling that no one else is doing,” he said. “If you have that as a starting point, the rest of the pieces fall in place.”

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Meghana Keshavan

By Meghana Keshavan

Meghana has spent the last year-and-a-half writing about biotech and healthcare for the San Diego Business Journal. Previously, she's worked for Reuters, Crain’s Detroit Business, the Detroit Free Press and WDET, a Detroit-based National Public Radio affiliate. Meghana studied biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University and spent five years as a self-described "research peon in a schizophrenia genetics lab."
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