Despite biotechnology company Alexion’s announcement on Tuesday that it will move its headquarters from New Haven to Boston, the local bioscience community remains optimistic about the future of biotech in the Elm City.
The company’s migration north came after a recent management reorganization and leadership turnover. Alexion’s relocation follows the recent moves of the headquarters of General Electric and Aetna from Fairfield to Boston and Hartford to New York, respectively. But amid mounting concerns about the growth of the state’s bioscience industry, many research leaders and advocates in New Haven are continuing efforts to bolster the city’s biotech startup environment.
“Alexion’s move isn’t going to change the trajectory of the things that we’re doing. We’re still bullishly optimistic about the future of the biotech community in New Haven,” said Jon Soderstrom, the managing director of the Office of Cooperative Research at Yale.
According to local scientists, the move will not have a major effect on New Haven’s growing biotech industry, particularly among startups associated with Yale.
Soderstrom said the only negative impact of the relocation on the city and state may be in terms of their reputations for having robust biotech sectors. He added that even this impact will be temporary, as New Haven continues to expand and develop existing biotech companies that are based in the city.
These include Achillion Pharmaceuticals, Arvinas and Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, the last of which had the strongest initial public offering of the year in the biotech space, according to Soderstrom.
“We regret that Alexion’s headquarters [are] leaving New Haven, but there will be limited to no impact on Yale’s research enterprise,” said Lisa D’Angelo, Yale’s assistant provost for research.
According to Director of Chemistry of the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery Denton Hoyer, the New Haven area is actively giving rise to new biotech companies. Programs, such as the PITCH initiative at Yale and the University of Connecticut.
The Yale Office of Cooperative Research and the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale also have a large positive impact on the future of the local biotech environment, he added.
The industry is steadily growing in the city, Soderstrom said. At Yale, last year was one of the most successful, with 11 new venture-backed startups — the most the office has supported to receive venture funding.
Yale has strategically pushed to increase support for faculty innovators to allow the development and launch of future impactful startups in New Haven, D’Angelo explained. These efforts have resulted in the success of several Yale-launched, New Haven-based startups, including Biohaven and Arvinas.
“New Haven provides real advantages for faculty founders, whose companies are based nearby, in providing opportunities for them to engage, lead and form the vision to the extent that they chose to be involved,” said Director of the Yale Center for Molecular Discovery Jane Merkel GRD ’00.
With programs like the Blavatnik Fund and the Yale Innovation Summit to support the startups, Yale’s efforts will ensure a robust pipeline, D’Angelo said.
Several people noted that they were unclear why Alexion moved to Boston. According to Soderstrom, the relocation is unlikely to be financially beneficial to the company.
“[The reasoning behind their move] is a mystery to me,” Hoyer said. “I think the cost of living in New Haven is more attractive for scientists with their typical salaries, but biotech leadership often thinks being in a biotech nexus like Boston has some advantage.”
Merkel said that Alexion may plan to leverage geographic proximity to foster more partnerships and acquisitions by moving their headquarters and business functions to the Boston area, where many other pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies are located.
But Connecticut has also made clear its willingness to support the industry, as the state has implemented policies and funded grants to support biotech innovation in Connecticut. These include $291 million in loans and grants in 2011 for the Jackson Laboratory in Farmington and $20 million in 2015 to the University of Connecticut to support technology startups.
Soderstrom said that the state has done a good job in promoting biotech and the growth of the industry.
“What we have to really strive for is the idea of creating more density. We don’t need to be spreading biotech companies around the state — we need to really consolidate and concentrate them in New Haven,” Soderstrom said. “In terms of opportunity standpoint, I think positive results with one startup begets positive opportunities with another.”
It is still unknown who will occupy Alexion’s former office space at 100 College St., according to D’Angelo.
Amy Xiong | firstname.lastname@example.org