Louis Kassa, EVP & COO,

PENNSYLVANIA BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER (PABC)

"Our blueprint to success has manifested in six IPOs and over US$3 billion worth of company value created."

Can you give an overview of Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (the PABC)’s mission and key activities over the past year?

The PABC is a non-profit that offers state-of-the-art laboratory and office space to early-stage biotech companies. As the only incubator located in the heart of the pharma belt, home to 70% of all US pharma, we have been at full capacity for a decade. Our blueprint to success has manifested in six IPOs and over US$3 billion worth of company value created.

Our model continues to prove its value. The national average of a successful exit for an early-stage life sciences company is 8.5 years. At the PABC, this is decreased to an average of 3.5 years, as demonstrated by an independent study conducted in 2019.

How does the PABC’s model support young companies?

We play close attention to the ecosystem – we do not take companies on a first come, first served basis as many incubators do. Rather, we seek diverse capabilities such that if you are a microbiologist in need of medical chemistry, for example, you can simply go across the hall for help given the flow cytometry, diagnostics, and medical devices on site. Around 70% of the companies in the PABC do small molecule drug translational research, but we also have a medical devices company, a dry eye disease company, and a diagnostics company.

Another differentiating factor of the PABC is we do not kick companies out, as we recognize the value senior companies play in providing young companies with experience and equipment. Many senior companies have serial entrepreneurs who have already commercialized; we have eight scientists onsite with FDA-approved drugs on the market, providing an unparalleled ecosystem in the incubator space.

What facilities and services does the center provide?

Today, we have a 150,000 square feet campus on 14 acres of land, with 30,000 square feet of lab space. We recently completed construction of a US$20.7 million facility with lab space, offices, and an event area. In January 2022, we opened a new facility in University City, Philadelphia, with our partners, Brandywine Realty Trust, that is currently at 95% capacity.

The PABC offers ample services and equipment with no upcharge, so when a young company looking to get started comes in, they do not need a big budget. Additionally, if a company gets stuck financially, we provide resources to get them unstuck by providing a funding opportunity through our tremendous network. We are about to close a US$50 million raise for our Hatch BioFund, an early-stage life sciences venture fund.

How did the PABC companies respond to Covid-19?

The PABC has both a flow cytometry and serologic company in our center. When the pandemic hit, having a serologic company drawing blood and doing clinical trials was tremendous, as seven of our companies pivoted to Covid-related initiatives. We were able to come up with some of the first Covid-19 tests in the country to be used in nursing homes and for first responders, ultimately providing antibody tests as well.

What is your assessment of the health of Pennsylvania’s biotech industry?

For the first time, we are seeing national players come to Doylestown due to the talent level and infrastructure we offer, including companies from Princeton, Boston, and different places in California.

The greater Pennsylvania region has always done well as a cluster, but if this current trajectory continues, we are at a tipping point of really making a big splash on the national scene, particularly in the cell and gene therapy and regenerative medicine areas. It helps that within 50 miles there are 88 universities and colleges producing significant talent to help feed the system.

What is your strategic vision for the PABC for the next 10 years?

The PABC has the opportunity and vision to carve out a biotech quarter in Doylestown. When companies graduate from an incubator, there is the risk that they relocate, but surrounding the PABC’s facilities is property prime for development. Companies can enjoy the support of the state and the PABC, and if we can get everyone working and growing together, we can increase job opportunities from 400 to 4,000.

I also see the opportunity to go into other clusters with our unique model, and we would love to see other incubators in major markets such as Boston and San Francisco using our platform, hopefully generating the same success.