Harvard launches biotech incubator in Boston's Longwood area, Blavatnik Life Lab – Boston Business Journal – The Business Journals

Another startup incubator is joining the ranks of Harvard University’s innovation labs.
The Blavatnik Life Lab, a 10,000-square-foot laboratory co-working space in the Longwood Medical Area, will formally launch later this week with its first cohort of five startups. Unlike the technology-focused Wyss Institute and the Pagliuca Life Lab, which dabbles in new drugs as well as devices, the Blavatnik Life Lab is all in on therapeutics.
It’s also housed within Harvard Medical School, which Mark Namchuk, the school’s executive director of therapeutics translation, hopes will foster connections between business-focused entrepreneurs and scientists who have traditionally operated in academic settings.
“The Life Lab’s conception was … to think about a place in the Longwood Area, because it’s geographically distinct from where we are in Allston, where we could narrow the focus to companies that are interested in drug discovery,” Namchuk said. “The second part is addressing the unique difficulties of biotech startups. The best programs I’ve ever been involved in emerged from a creative tension between science, medicine and business.”
“One of those disciplines is right,” he added. “The art in doing well is figuring out whose turn it is to be right.”
Namchuk is himself a veteran of the biopharmaceutical industry. He spent more than 15 years at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: VRTX), ending his tenure there as head of global research for the pharma giant. More recently, he was senior vice president of research at Waltham-based Alkermes. Harvard hired Namchuk in 2020 to head up the therapeutics initiative, which is meant to translate Harvard-born science into medicines.
Namchuk is familiar with the struggles of the life sciences industry, including the cost of discovering and developing new drugs, high trial failure rates and the cost of lab space in the area. He sees the Blavatnik Life Lab as a salve to all that.
Namchuk said the new lab offers relatively cheap lab space (although he declined to name exact rates), with a two-year cap on how long they can stay in the incubator. It also offers business mentorship through partnerships with the Harvard Business School and its sister lab, the Pagliuca Life Lab. Another partner organization, LabCentral, is running the logistics of the physical lab space, but Namchuk is excited about the community-building experience LabCentral’s team brings to the table as well.
“Making a therapy is a uniquely difficult thing,” Namchuk said. “Having that constellation of business advice, scientific advice and company-creation advice is what we wanted to achieve.”
The new facility hosts about 5,000 square feet of wet lab space and another 5,000 square feet of dry, office and communal space. While five startups are working there to start out, it can house up to 12, Namchuk said.
To get into the Blavatnik Life Lab, startups must prove a handful of things: that they have a strong Harvard affiliation, strong science and a strong team. They must also be ready to contribute to the lab’s community and culture, Namchuk said. The application process is shared with the Pagliuca Life Lab.
The Blavatnik doesn’t have a focus on any particular therapeutic modality or disease area. Instead, its startups are chosen based on their technologies’ potential to positively impact human health.
“I’m excited about the possibility of thinking about ideas that start out with a professor we work with at the origination of an idea and being able to work with them all the way through to the commercialization of that idea,” Namchuk said. “It’s a wonderful last train stop on that journey.”
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