The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute was unveiled in 2013 as the nation’s “first industry-led collaborative life sciences research institute.”
The nonprofit proposed by Eli Lilly and Co. CEO John Lechleiter would be a single location where the brightest minds from healthcare companies and public research institutions would collaborate to make breakthrough discoveries in metabolic health and nutrition. Not only that, but the goal was to quickly translate those discoveries into medicines.
Three years later, visible progress doesn’t mimic the early hype, but the institute is hitting its stride. Early this month IBRI hired its first independent investigator, and if CEO David Broecker hits his 2016 goals she won’t be the last. He’d like to have commitments from three more researchers/investigators by year-end, along with a similar number of labs up and running.
“My No. 1 and my No. 1 and my No. 1 job is recruiting,” said Broecker, who hours earlier had returned from a recruiting trip to Dallas, in search of what he calls “entrepreneurial”-minded scientists.
“I’m literally traveling like a bandit trying to connect with people,” he said.
The former Eli Lilly executive and life sciences entrepreneur, who was hired in February 2015, also checked-off progress toward his No. 2 goal: fundraising.
This February, Lilly Endowment and Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation pledged a combined total of $100 million in grants to IBRI. With that, IBRI is about halfway toward its three-year goal of raising $350 million.
Part of the $100 million commitment is a $15 million grant contingent on finding matching funds.
“I’m working with life sciences companies to see if I can effect a grant from them that would trigger the match,” he said.
Broecker, who helped start or lead five startup life sciences firms since 2010, said he was itching to get IBRI’s facility on the north end of IUPUI actually “turned on” since moving in last fall. The 25,000-square-foot facility has room for more than 60 scientists.
He’s been encouraged by efforts of Raghu Mirmiri, interim chief scientific officer and core laboratories director for IBRI, who this month helped lasso the institute’s first independent investigator. Teresa Mastracci, a molecular biologist at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, is focused on regenerating insulin-producing cells that are destroyed by diabetes.
“She literally now is building her lab” at IBRI, which is equipped to study mice, Broecker said.
To those outside the life sciences realm, the need for and importance of such an institute is hard to grasp.
Market forces would seem to dictate that, if there is money to be made, then institute partners such as Lilly, Cook Medical, or Roche Diagnostics would find the resources to develop the product independently.
That outlook fails to recognize the value of pooling additional resources such as those at other life sciences companies or at places such as IU Health or the IU School of Medicine.
“Universities are trying to find ways of getting outside of their walls,” said Dan Evans, recently retired former CEO of IU Health, who last month was elected chairman of IBRI.
“We don’t have this petri dish where all of these things come together. That’s what’s been missing, is this platform for collaboration,” Evans added.
Indiana also already has what Evans calls an “outsized concentration” of companies in health and life science categories.
For example, there’s Lilly’s global leadership in diabetes and insulin medicine. Cook Medical is a leader in vascular complications; Roche Diagnostics in glucose monitoring and Dow AgroSciences in genetics. Northern Indiana is also home to orthopedics giant Zimmer Biomet, while IU Health is one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems and IU School of Medicine a top medical school.
“What makes Indiana special is we have one of everything,” said Broecker.
But, as evidenced by his frequent flights around the world to recruit new scientists, the institute will benefit from outside expertise as well. Think of it as a snowball effect.
“Through this unique model, more innovation can be fostered, more talent can be attracted and retained and more discoveries can be realized,” said David Johnson, CEO of Indiana life sciences initiative BioCrossroads.
But the institute won’t reach its full potential until a planned development known as 16 Tech is built. The 60-acre, public and privately-funded site will be known as an “innovation district,” with research labs, medical institutions, accelerators/incubators and residential space. The development expected to eventually attract more than $450 million in private development also will land tenants from other tech sectors, such as IT.
IBRI will move into a new, 75,000-square-foot building at 16 Tech that should be ready in 2018.
16 Tech “will be an actual, physical place and it will attract talent that we couldn’t attract without that sort of place,” Evans said.
The institute’s focus, at least initially, will be on cardiovascular diseases such as diabetes and obesity. They affect an estimated 25 percent of the world’s adult population.
“Endocrine disease is an international catastrophe and research hasn’t stemmed the tide of new patients,” Evans said.