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RFU Opens First Bioscience Incubator in Lake County
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science announced today the opening of Helix 51, Lake County’s first bioscience incubator. The 5,400 square-foot incubator will house therapeutic, diagnostics and medical device startups from Lake County — home to the largest concentration of healthcare companies in the Midwest — but also from southern Wisconsin and northern Cook County, all regions where a lack of affordable wet lab/research space threatens to inhibit innovation.
“The need for affordable, state-of-the-art wet lab space is critical for the expansion of Illinois’ bioscience industry,” said Dr. Ronald Kaplan, RFU’s executive vice president for research. “We know there is a shortage of this type of space given its high cost. On average, wet lab space is four to five times more expensive to build than conventional office space due to specialized needs for air quality, water, emergency power and other factors.”
Dr. Kaplan is leading the university’s construction of the planned first phase of its new Innovation and Research Park (IRP), a 100,000 square-foot building, expected to be completed in fall 2019.
“We recognize the need to create a hub and place for bioscience and healthcare startups in advance of our IRP opening,” he said. “We are now offering the lab space and services so critical to these young companies.”
Helix 51 is named in recognition of the iconic Photo 51, a depiction of the B form of DNA captured through X-ray diffraction by the university’s namesake in May 1952. The photo and Dr. Rosalind Franklin’s related data were integral to the 1953 discovery and description of the double helix structure of DNA — the single most important advance in modern biology.
The incubator will expand into space within RFU’s new Innovation and Research Park, accommodating more startup activity in Lake County, which is currently home to 33,000 bioscience jobs and 122 companies, according to the non-profit economic development group Lake County Partners. The 100,000 square-foot IRP is expected to open in fall 2019.
Helix 51 currently includes two member companies, BLR Bio and Inspirotec.
BLRBio, an RFU spinoff that also conducts research in Canada and Europe, is focused on novel therapy and diagnostics for the treatment of cancer and fibrotic diseases impacting the liver, kidneys and other organs. Founder and CEO Dr. Bruce Riser is an internationally recognized expert in fibrotic diseases. A former director of research at Baxter International, he also serves as RFU adjunct professor of physiology and biophysics. BLRBio has received more than $3.5 million in NIH and other foundation and industry grants, including a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases SBIR Phase I grant award of $285,690 to study new compounds in in vivo models for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD).
“We are thrilled to be a part of Helix 51, which is helping us develop and move urgently needed new therapies into the marketplace,” Dr. Riser said.
Inspirotec is the developer of proprietary technology dedicated to the sensitive detection of environmental contamination caused by allergens and mold in hospital, clinics, homes and businesses. The company is also researching and developing detection technology for other dangerous pathogens.
Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Julian Gordon spent many years as a leading scientist at Abbott Labs. His achievements include the invention of the Western blot and lateral flow technology, leading to the first home pregnancy test. He obtained his PhD while working in the same lab at King’s College London where Rosalind Franklin investigated the structure of DNA.
“It is particularly meaningful to expand our R&D activities at this university, which is named for a scientist whose discoveries continue to improve health and longevity,” Dr. Gordon said. “We are excited to be part of the growing Lake County bioscience community.”
The development of Helix 51 is supported in part by $2.5 million in funding through new market tax credits under a federal program aimed at fueling investments that help create jobs and job-training opportunities in low-income communities. The Innovation and Research Park in its first phase will help generate an estimated 500 direct and related jobs and an annual economic development impact on Lake County and the surrounding region of $117 million, according to Lake County Partners.
Helix 51 and the Innovation and Research Park will also attract investment and industry collaborations through an array of financial incentives under the Waukegan-North Chicago Enterprise Zone, a state program aimed at stimulating economic growth and community revitalization.