When Alexion Pharmaceuticals announced last fall that it was moving its headquarters from New Haven to Boston, it was a blow to Connecticut’s bioscience industry. But smaller companies are already filling the void.
Bioasis Technologies is a Vancouver, Canada-based company developing a treatment for brain cancer. They chose to open their U.S. office in Guilford, a block from the town green.
“Part of the thinking about opening up the headquarters for the U.S. here in Guilford was because we know if we need manufacturing, we know that we need xyz, we know the talent is local,” said Mark Day, CEO of Bioasis.
Day is pretty familiar with the talent. Before he became CEO at Bioasis, he worked at Alexion, which has made big cuts to its Connecticut workforce in addition to moving its headquarters out of the state. Before that, Day worked at Bristol Myers Squibb, which has pulled out of the state entirely.
“Part of the unfortunate exodus of BMS [Bristol Myers Squibb] and Alexion, there’s a danger that people migrate out," Day said, "But Guilford is such a great place to live, that people have actually found themselves in those situations, they’re not moving to Boston, for the most part, they’re not moving out to New York, they’re staying put. So that gives you an almost incubator environment in the local areas of people who could synergize together and come up with new ideas for technology.”
There are a number of these kinds of companies growing in Connecticut. And they are beginning to support a bioscience workforce of more than 24,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“The future for the life sciences and biopharma for the growth of those sectors, are the smaller, new companies," said Paul Pescatello, senior counsel and executive director of the Connecticut Bioscience Growth Council, "rather than the growth of what I call the larger legacy companies.”
Those smaller companies are finding it affordable to be in Connecticut, at least compared to New York or Boston, Pescatello said.
“The cost of being in Boston, in Cambridge, in New York and the New York metropolitan area really keeps ratcheting up to the point where it's very hard for companies, for management teams, to avoid looking outside of those two areas for cheaper places," he said, "And you know, we’re right here.”
Another one of those newer up and coming companies is SEMA4. It’s a health information technology company with offices in Branford and Stamford that does advanced genomic testing.
“That’s really the cutting edge of what’s happening in bioscience. And that company and companies like it could be a complete game changer,” Pescatello said.
He added that firms like this have the potential to cut research and development costs for the whole industry.
SEMA4 recently announced that it’s moving one of its labs in New York City to Stamford with the help of a $6 million loan from the state of Connecticut. Catherine Smith, the state's commissioner of economic and community development, negotiated the deal with SEMA4. She said her department has recovered the money it loaned to Alexion after it moved its headquarters to Boston, and the state is now looking to attract more companies like SEMA4 and Bioasis.
“We’ve seen an increase particularly in the last few years of the number of innovative new companies being started here in the state," Smith said, "I think that’s very much aligned with the strengths in the state, with the quality of our highly educated workforce, as well as the universities focus that we have both at Yale and UConn.”
Smith said over the years, the bioscience industry in Connecticut has gone through fits and starts, but right now it’s looking up.