May 20, 2013
When Astellas Pharma shuttered the labs of OSI Pharmaceuticals last week, no one felt that loss as acutely as the residents of Long Island, NY. OSI, famed for its lung cancer drug erlotinib (Tarceva), had shown that it was possible to create a large pharmaceutical company on Long Island. Not only was it the anchor tenant in the Broad Hollow Bioscience Park, a complex on the Farmingdale State College campus that gives prospective startup biotechs a place to conduct experiments, but it was also the backbone of a tiny, evolving cluster known as the Route 110 Bioscience Corridor.
That was all wiped away when Astellas, which acquired OSI for $4 billion in 2010, announced plans to shut it down on May 13. But a group consisting of an ex-politician, a few venture capitalists, and some local research institutions is trying to prove that when one door closes, another opens. They have banded together to form an initiative called Accelerate Long Island, with a big plan in mind—creating an innovation ecosystem on the island.
Mark Lesko, Executive Director of Accelerate LI
“You can’t really understate the importance [of OSI],” says Mark Lesko, the executive director of Accelerate. “But you do now have an opportunity to grow companies in that space that could become the next OSI.”
For those unfamiliar, Long Island contains a few of the key elements to bring such a thing together. It has large, well-known research institutions (the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Stonybrook University) that have produced a number of biotech spinouts, and VC firms (Canrock Partners and Topspin Partners) on its home turf, not to mention a close proximity to the financial muscle of New York City. But OSI, which employed more than 100 at its research center, according to Newsday, was its biotech anchor.
That makes the task all that much harder for Lesko, who has been at the forefront of a movement to spur the innovation in Long Island for some time and became Accelerate LI’s executive director in September. Previously the supervisor of Brookhaven, New York state’s second largest town, Lesko says he, like many other politicians, “pounded the table” several times trying to galvanize an effort to build a Silicon Valley-type cluster in Long Islanders’ backyard.
“As you well know, that is not anywhere close to as easy as it sounds,” he says.
Even so, Lesko is giving it his best shot.