Louis Kassa President and CEO
PENNSYLVANIA BIOTECHNOLOGY CENTER (PABC)
"I hope to continue seeing companies coming from across the country contributing to the significant growth of the greater Philadelphia area in life sciences."
Can you speak to your vision for PABC since being appointed President and CEO in July 2022?
PABC has three nonprofit organizations - the Hepatitis B Foundation, the Blumberg Institute, and the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC) – that have all tripled in size since 2014 when I came on board. I am extremely proud that we were able to replicate our PABC model in January 2022, and we continue to be at total capacity with our partner Brandywine Realty Trust in Pennsylvania (B+Labs). We have had excellent A-list companies in this B+Labs program, including Capstan Therapeutics who did a US$165 million raise this year in a difficult financing environment; Tmunity Therapeutics, acquired by Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences; and recently, we saw Carisma Therapeutics acquire another company. About 45% of the companies in B+Labs are from outside the greater Philadelphia area and are coming from across the country to this growing region. Regarding PABC, Aprea Therapeutics did a reverse IPO, and the Blumberg Institute achieved an approximately US$32 million yellow fever grant from the NIH, which is the largest grant we have ever received and a great opportunity.
What are PABC’s current objectives?
Our goal is to also enter another market by 2024, and I am currently talking to three other regions about replicating our model there. We are also talking to universities and nonprofit research institutes to be part of creating an incubator ecosystem across regions. Another initiative is our Hatch Biofund, a US$50 million venture capital fund serving as a companion to the incubators and accelerators owned or managed by the PABC. This fund will not only help local startups accelerate their science but also help our deal flow and our national reputation of this model in how it can benefit other regions as well.
Lastly, the state awarded us a US$5 million grant in the winter of 2022, which has been an amazing opportunity for us as we are now able to encourage companies from other parts of the country to come to Philadelphia, either to be B+Labs or PABC, and offer them free lab space, C-suite hiring, staff hiring, cover their business expenses, IP expenses, and free equipment. This is a pilot program and if we can attract high-quality science and companies to Pennsylvania and create jobs, I would love to see this grant continuing, maybe at an increased amount, to propel the Greater Philadelphia Pennsylvania region into the top five life sciences clusters.
What is your outlook for the funding environment for biotechs in 2023?
It is cautious. Many companies are trying to focus on the cash flow they have now to get through to 2024. There is still a significant amount of VC funding out there and to consolidate the market, especially after all the IPOs that happened in 2020/2021, now is perhaps the time to focus on deal-making rather than bringing new players into the market. We are seeing deals go through and are excited about launching our Hatch Biofund to increase VC in Philadelphia. Our vision is that Hatch Biofund will become the premier VC fund for potential investment opportunities in the region. Pennsylvania’s new governor has made it one of his initiatives to invest in the industry and that could be a huge advantage for us in that we can come to the table with Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California and start looking at something like what MassBio did approximately 15 years ago. Finally, we are seeing a high hit rate on non-dilutive funding, SBIR, STTR, NIH funding, and DOD funding.
What will be the impact of the growing life science industry on the region?
We are growing as a cluster and instead of having 400 jobs in Doylestown which we have now, we can have 4,000 shortly. We need to focus on working with the universities, high schools, and even middle schools to get more life science-specific programs into the schools so that we can develop the workforce here. I hope to continue seeing companies coming from across the country contributing to the significant growth of the greater Philadelphia area in life sciences.