Life Sciences Initiative Strives to Localize Global Visionaries

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – When you’re a big company, thinking big is probably in your blood. Buzzwords like “global alliances” and “strategic partnerships” are sure to pop up eventually if you experience any reasonable degree of growth.
Thinking big, though, can pave the way way to initiatives so global in nature that your company neglects what’s happening locally. That’s one of the reasons for the formation of the Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative, which strives to convince global companies like Eli Lilly to open its eyes to possibilities within the state.

“How do you get Eli Lilly – which forms alliances all over world – to collaborate here in Indiana? Though it sounds obvious, it really hasn’t been done,” said lawyer and volunteer David Johnson, who heads the initiative’s capital formation committee. “In today’s global economy, it’s very difficult to send up a flair for companies to check out what’s happening in their own backyards when they are so busy and active across the globe.”

A volunteer-run initiative by members of Indiana’s business community, the Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative was formed in February 2002 by Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson in conjunction with Indiana University, Purdue University-West Lafayette and other institutions.

Headed by 20 different representatives from the area’s top institutions (including Eli Lilly, Dow AgroSciences, Roche Diagnostics, the Cook Group, Anthem Insurance and major hospitals like St. Vincent Hospitals and Clarian Hospital), all volunteers have some sort of stake in the biotech and life sciences game. Johnson, who works at Indianapolis-based Baker & Daniels during the day, says his take away from the initiative is the satisfaction of helping to do what needs to be done.

“If someone isn’t trying to develop business opportunities for tomorrow, there will be nothing to do,” he said.

With emphasis on downstream economic opportunities, the non-profit initiative is divided into four segments. The first unit is Johnson’s capital formation committee, which works with the state for a greater share of Federal funding and tries to raise the very initial funds for laboratory work to convert to the business plan stage.

The capital formation committee is also assembling an institutional investor’s “fund of funds” that would permit each limited partner (LP) to invest in a bevy of venture capital firms in Indiana. Johnson says he currently has the basic group pulled together and is now selecting management to run the committee. He expects to announce the committee’s leaders within the next 60 days.

The initiative’s three other committees are the collaboration committee (which works with institutional partners for joint development), the workforce committee (which works on attracting and retaining talent in Indiana corporations and universities) and the marketing committee (which crafts the initiative’s message and works to push the word out to relevant media outfits).

“We’re not trying to be like everyone else. We’re not trying to get into areas in which Indiana isn’t already strong,” Johnson said. “We’re not state driven and we’re not paternalistic. We’re market driven by the institutions that are involved in the initiative. That allows us to have a greater chance of succeeding in our goals because people are doing things in their own self interests.”

Designed to capture and stimulate a market that’s already there but not yet pulled together, Johnson cites Guidant (one of the largest medical device makers in the world) as an example of a company with significant life sciences assets already headquartered in Indianapolis but not necessarily partnered with other analogous Indianapolis players.

As for what has been accomplished in the initiative’s first year of operations, Johnson says he has seen many new entities come to fruition, the formation of a new business incubator at Indiana University, a large expansion at Clarion Health Partners and the development of a fund of funds in the amount of about $100 million.

“The nation is at a point in which we have to make choices. It’s time to decide if the biotech or life sciences area is right for your area,” Johnson said. “There are components of collaboration in St. Louis between Monsanto’s plant sciences work and its involvement with Washington University. Pittsburgh and Michigan say they are far ahead of Indiana but I don’t think so.”

He added: “While Indiana wouldn’t compare to coastal cities like Boston, San Diego or San Francisco, Indiana life sciences may at the end of the day mean more devices rather than strict biotech.”

Central Indiana’s $13.6 billion life sciences industry employs some 82,000 workers in nearly 900 companies – a concentration that is said to be 50 percent greater than the national average. Central Indiana is one of just a handful of regions with $200 million in academic research commitments to life sciences and 10,000 life sciences college graduates each year.