This Oped was originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business on September 6, 2019

John Pletz’s article (“Will these startups help biotech take root in Chicago?” Aug. 9) highlights a shift in the Illinois biotech community and underscores the need to realign Illinois resources to help biotech take root in Illinois.

Illinois has always been home to world-class researchers like the University of Chicago’s Dr. Tom Gajewski, but in the past five years, we have seen the universities align investment and resources to increase the number of startups coming out of those researchers’ labs. Just this year we have seen Illinois universities partner with groups like Deerfield Management to provide translational research funding, which will continue to fuel the creation of startup companies in our community. And we have seen recent trends of former executives from large pharma and biotech companies successfully building startups and attracting talent to Illinois. Companies like Xeris, Aptinyx and AveXis are helping Illinois change the narrative.

But John Flavin and David Steinberg are correct in the article: Our community does not have the infrastructure to support these startups. According to CBRE’s “2019 U.S. Life Sciences Clusters” report, metro Chicago has 2.966 million square feet of lab space with almost no vacancy. If you add the expansion at the Illinois Science + Technology Park, Sterling Bay’s 2430 N. Halsted building and Rosalind Franklin University’s Innovation & Research Park, that brings the total lab space to just over 3.3 million square feet. By comparison, Boston-Cambridge currently has 28 million square feet of lab space with an additional 1.87 million square feet under construction. Raleigh-Durham has 5 million square feet of lab space, including sites under construction.

For emerging biotech startups in Illinois, the availability of quality laboratory space is one of the most crucial components for continued growth, innovation and development, and yet it is one of Illinois’ scarcest resources. To support the growth of our community, resources need to be realigned to increase investment into infrastructure expansions because expanding the biotech industry in Illinois doesn’t just mean more jobs, it also helps people live longer and healthier lives.