Biotech executives help developing companies

June 23, 2008

By hammersmith

[Source: Phoenix Business Journal, Angela Gonzales] – A group of biotech executives has come together to create a virtual incubator to support fledgling life-science companies in Arizona.

Behind the effort is Jeff Morhet, president and CEO of InNexus Biotechnology Inc. The incubator, called ThirdBiotech Research Group, is part of a nonprofit life-sciences network created by Morhet.

The group’s mission is to facilitate development of intellectual property, science and technology to help develop Arizona’s biotechnology companies, he said.

One component will be connecting startups with available lab space within other biotech companies such as InNexus, where they can temporarily use the space they need free of charge or at reduced rates. They also would be able to use expensive equipment they’re not yet ready to buy on their own, Morhet said.

This virtual incubator is different from traditional incubators, which generally have failed in the biotech sector. Incubators are meant to assist startup companies with shared resources and inexpensive space.

“The difference is we’re not setting up dedicated lab space until it’s needed,” Morhet said. “Basically, we’re looking for individuals and institutions willing to dedicate space, time and energy and help to facilitate those things.”

Morhet said companies that offer free space benefit in the long run because it helps build a critical mass of biotech companies in Arizona.

“We don’t have critical mass, and that’s what this research group is there to do,” he said. “It’s not there to take the place of any university or institutional programs. It’s there to help them, to evolve them.”

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said he will do everything he can to support ThirdBiotech’s efforts.

“I really like the kind of activism that’s come from Jeff and his company,” he said. “What Jeff is doing is putting people together to find money, support research, and help people make research commercially viable and turn it into an enterprise.”

Sharon Harper, president and CEO of The Plaza Cos., which is developing the 275,000-square-foot Phoenix Biomedical Plaza in downtown Phoenix, said it could provide an opportunity.

Harper said about 25 percent of the Phoenix Biomedical Plaza will be wet lab space — which includes ventilation and gas lines because researchers study chemical substances and genetic material. That could increase as prospective tenants come to the table. Some of it could include incubator space, she said.

“A couple of tenants we are talking to are intending to have incubator space available for themselves and possibly for others,” she said.

Morhet said InNexus has between 250 and 400 square feet of Class A wet lab space available to biotech entrepreneurs.

“The issue here is free, low-cost flex and expanding space for companies that grow,” he said. “You have to have a flexible model.”

Wet lab space is one component of what ThirdBiotech plans to offer. Biotech executives also will help startups protect their intellectual property by connecting them with attorneys and other specialists.

“We’re not here for exploratory research,” Morhet said. “We’re here to help create Arizona-based biotech (that is) focused on creating devices, products and solutions.”

He said it’s a different set of criteria from a university’s tech-transfer arm, which promotes research. In fact, he said, ThirdBiotech would work with university tech-transfer divisions to help a new company protect its intellectual property and commercialize its product.

The same goes for financing, as ThirdBiotech would try to connect startups with venture capitalists, angel investors, grants and other sources of funding.

“We’re saying we want to help out,” Morhet said. “We want to foster growing biotechs in Arizona.”

Get Connected
Thirdbiotech Networking Event
When: June 26, 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Gordon Biersch Restaurant, 420 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
RSVP: 480-736-0033

Sponsors: Bio5 Institute, GE Healthcare, Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Canada-Arizona Business Council, Osborn Maledon PA, InNexus Biotechnology Inc.

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