State program focused on pandemic resilience opens

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Gov. Kathy Hochul last week announced the opening of a new state program designed to accelerate the development and commercialization of life science research and innovations that address serious infectious disease threats, including COVID-19 and its variants.

Eligible companies and academic institutions now can apply for grants from the $40 million Biodefense Commercialization Fund. The development of innovations with the highest potential for commercial viability will be prioritized.

“No state was hit harder and faster by COVID-19 than New York State—and it is incumbent upon us to use the lessons we learned to better prepare for the future,” Hochul said. “The Biodefense Commercialization Fund will help the next generation of startups and early-stage companies combat infectious diseases while creating jobs and investment in New York’s life science industry.”

New York endured the brunt of the COVID pandemic’s first wave. It currently has the fourth-highest number of total cases nationwide (2,329,234) and third-highest death toll (54,211).

The fund, which was included in the state’s fiscal year 2022 budget passed before former Gov. Andrew Cuomo left office, will award grants to help bring to market diagnostics, therapeutics and other innovations that address or mitigate the spread of serious infectious diseases, building pandemic resilience.

Startups and early-stage companies can apply for grants of up to $4 million while academic research institutions in New York can seek grants of up to $500,000 to help fast track advanced intellectual property in life sciences. 

To be eligible, companies must be based in New York or committed to relocating to the state; have raised or are in the process of raising seed, series A or series B funding; and expect to continue doing business in New York for at least three years after completion of grant period. They can apply for grants of approximately $1 million to $4 million.

Academic institutions based in New York are eligible to apply for grants of $250,000 to $500,000, if they have translational innovations that are on the verge of moving into a commercial development phase.

Grant funding can be used only for expenses directly related to the awarded project.

“The (fund) is a critical investment that seeks to turn the scientific research being conducted across the state into cutting-edge treatments and medical solutions to ensure that New York is ready to respond to infectious disease threats in the future,” said Kevin Younis, Empire State Development chief operating officer and executive deputy commissioner.

ESD will manage the fund, with guidance from an executive committee that includes representatives from the state’s Department of Health, Columbia University, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and two venture funds. A review panel—with experts from the biopharma industry, life science venture investors, and academic scientists—will evaluate the submitted applications and provide recommendations to ESD.

Short proposals—to be submitted online—are due by 5 p.m. on Sept. 27. A select group of applicants will be asked to submit a more complete proposal containing additional detail on key research and development milestones, as well as a detailed budget. Awardees are expected to be announced in December.

All grant recipients will be assigned an industry mentor to support advancement of their research programs and guide commercialization. Awardees also will be able to access educational sessions offered by Columbia’s Lab to Market Accelerator Network.

“We want to ensure that New York is where these groundbreaking companies start and operate, and that our state is at the center of the search for solutions to the world’s most-pressing problems,” Hochul said.

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

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