Chicago has advanced in a key ranking of U.S. biopharma hubs, thanks to better year-to-year projections for federal research grants, medical center expansion, extended business startup tax incentives and much-needed, planned investment in lab space.
That’s no surprise to Jeff Aronin, Chairman and CEO of Paragon Biosciences, a leader in Chicagoland’s life sciences community for more than two decades.
”I think we have all the pieces, great research, great institutions,” says Aronin, adding, “The big pharma talent that’s here is as good as anywhere in the country, and that’s critical because you need world-class (employees) who have been trained by the best institutional programs.”
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) reported in September 2019 that Chicago has become the nation’s ninth top biopharma hub – up from 10th in its 2018 ranking – based on the strengths that Jeff Aronin mentions and more.
For example, between 2014-16, Illinois’ biopharma industry employment grew a striking 9% compared with 2% growth nationally. And a recent Crain’s Chicago Business story noted that Illinois now holds the nation’s fifth largest concentration of life science workers, driven largely by new life science startup companies in recent years.
This positive outlook is why Illinois’ governor has designated biotech as one of seven rising industrial sectors in the state. The governor released a five-year statewide economic blueprint in fall 2019 that proposed a number of incentives for the industry, including tax incentives for technology startup companies and support for development of more “wet lab” space for biotech researchers that could keep more Illinois life science startups in-state. (Wet labs are laboratories where chemicals, drugs or other biological matter are tested and analyzed using liquids.)
Some of Illinois’ most promising startups have originated at Jeff Aronin’s Paragon Biosciences, a life science innovator that invests in, builds, and advises independent portfolio companies specializing in biopharmaceuticals and advanced life science technologies. Between 2017-19, Paragon Biosciences launched seven portfolio companies with plans to add more in the future.
In just the past two years alone, Paragon Bioscience’s portfolio companies have achieved significant milestones, including an FDA-approved treatment for excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) in adult patients with narcolepsy, clinical advancements in a potential therapy to treat Tourette Syndrome and stuttering, and further advancement of the first FDA-cleared, AI-enabled breast cancer system for radiology.
In working toward Illinois’ growth as a global bioscience hub, Jeff Aronin is also supporting its startup community.
In 2015, Aronin created and launched MATTER, the nonprofit biotech incubator based in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. MATTER was built as a central connection point for new biotech entrepreneurs and leaders of Chicagoland’s established biopharmaceutical, medical device and healthcare institutions. By 2019, the incubator’s 230 member companies had crossed the $1 billion mark in total funding raised.
Jeff Aronin created MATTER to help Illinois’ newest bioscience companies grow faster.
“I have been fortunate to have started multiple companies, I know where to go” for information in building new businesses in the life sciences, Aronin explains, but adds that new entrepreneurs generally don’t have much access to leaders in their respective fields. “So to be in a community (at MATTER) where that is taking place is really valuable for an entrepreneur,” Aronin said.
In the life sciences industry, institutions like MATTER have proven particularly successful in getting new bioscience companies off the ground. According to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor, 1 in 4 life sciences and healthcare startups that raised at least $4 million in 2017 and 2018 has been involved with an incubator or accelerator.