From the Harlem Biospace: An Optimistic View on New York Bioscience

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EpiBone’s home, the Harlem Biospace, hardly looks like a hub of cutting-edge science from the outside. The imposing brick façade sits right behind a taxi stand, across from a taco shack, down the street from legendary jazz clubs and an architecture firm and a live poultry shop, at the confluence of a rainbow of train lines. This is Harlem, fast-paced and metamorphosing, in the Factory District where 126th Street somehow intersects with 127th Street in a classic Manhattan idiosyncrasy.

And now this is also Harlem: our converted old candy factory, rescued from interim use as a census office and now alive inside with scientists as diverse as the city, doing research that could someday save or improve thousands of lives.

Next week marks EpiBone’s first anniversary at the Biospace. So as I sat quietly at home on Tuesday—given permission by the not-so-apocalyptic snowstorm to cancel meetings, to look out the window, to stop and think—I got to reflecting on the forecast for New York City bioscience these days. And I realize that, though every forecast has its uncertainties, I’ve never felt more optimistic. Even a blizzard couldn’t tamp down the sense that we’re at the beginning of something very special.

It’s hard not to be optimistic as an early-stage life sciences company based in NYC right now. EpiBone’s very own “migration” story out of our academic lab began with 2010 article in the New York Times and a 2011 grant from the BioAccelerate program. We just applied for a New York City Biotechnology tax credit, we’re housed in a historic building which through an initiative of the NYCEDC has been transformed into a hub for life science commercialization. All around us are 15 other companies at a similar stage, helping to form a community of support.

The momentum extends far beyond Harlem. As I pen this, ground is being broken for a Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island (coincidentally where I live, and the historic home of everything from a women’s prison to an 18th century smallpox quarantine), set to become what city officials hope will position New York as a major tech center. These two locations in the New York City “archipelago”—which in many ways couldn’t be more different (Roosevelt Island only has one street)—represent an incredibly rapid evolution of our city’s bioscience scene.

Consider that when I was graduating from engineering school at the Cooper Union back in 2001 (right before the bubble burst), I moved to New Jersey to find an exciting engineering job (in my case, doing VoIP work at Avaya Labs).

So it’s extra poignant for us to find ourselves in a beautiful wet lab outfitted with modern biotech equipment, a home to exciting classes and events, where we and other scientists are creating a community to turn ideas into inventions that solve real health problems. In EpiBone’s case, we’re pioneering new technology to disrupt the world of skeletal reconstruction by using live patient cells to grow the living implants people need when their bones need repair.

Our founding team is diverse and global (depending on how you count, we at EpiBone have roots in Germany, India, Serbia, Thailand, Boston, Toronto, and New York), and we are in many ways quintessentially New Yorkers. We are betting that our ticking city is on its way to becoming not only the nation’s financial capital, but a vibrant hub for incredible bioscience, as well.

In EpiBone’s case, as we pioneer technology that proves living cells can be our partners in medicine, we demonstrate that life is a necessary ingredient in discovery. And so is the energy and fellowship of the city are the necessary ingredients in discovery.

So we’re opening this blog as a venue to keep you posted about what it’s like “from the benches” (lab benches, that is), to celebrate new ideas, and to engage in dialogue with you, our community.

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