Mount Sinai’s Icahn medical school launches $10M investment fund

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has created a $10 million accelerator fund to speed up the commercialization of research at the school. It’s starting with two investments in drug-development ventures.

The i3 Asset Accelerator will provide capital and business development support to its researchers. Icahn joins a growing group of local medical schools—including NYU Langone, Weill Cornell, Columbia and SUNY Downstate—that have dedicated funds to commercialize their research.

“This is a really great way to seed the companies,” said Nicole McKnight, managing director at BioLabs New York, which runs a co-working space with NYU Langone for early stage biotech companies in Manhattan. “As funding for basic science kind of shrinks, it’s also a key way for the institutions to raise money through royalties.”

The state and the city have committed nearly $1.2 billion combined to develop New York’s biotech industry, a source of middle-class jobs, through tax credits, real estate development and some seed funding. Several local drug-development companies have raised investment rounds of $50 million or more this year.

Expediting investments

The goal of the accelerator—i3 refers to innovation, inflection and impact—is to help Mount Sinai’s researchers traverse the “valley of death” in biotech, where startups may perish if they don’t get the funding needed to pay for clinical trials. Those results are vital to attracting investment capital from pharmaceutical companies or venture capital firms.

“It was important for the institution to have a fund that could provide funding in a rapid format for a high-potential program,” said Erik Lium, senior vice president of Mount Sinai Innovation Partners. “The kind of research we will be funding may not be the type of research that falls within the National Institutes of Health.”

Lium said the medical school expects to evaluate potential investments within two to three months. By contrast, it can take years to get funding through other methods.

The money initially will support two research projects. Geneticist Ross Cagan, senior associate dean at Icahn’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and chemist Arvin Dar, an assistant professor of oncological sciences and pharmacological sciences at Icahn, are collaborating on research on colorectal and liver cancer. They have developed a platform to identify potential drugs that has so far yielded several promising candidates, Cagan said.

But pharma companies and venture capital firms aren’t quite ready to invest in the venture. “Their message is, ‘Come back when you’re much further along,’ ” Cagan said.

Mount Sinai is funding the research before a company has been formed. If the work yields intellectual property and a company is later created, the medical school will take an equity stake in the venture. “The next step forward is getting data so people want to invest,” Cagan said.

The second project the accelerator will fund is research on new therapies for influenza B viral infections, which is being conducted by Florian Krammer, an associate professor of microbiology at Icahn.

Mount Sinai Innovation Partners, which has 36 employees, filed 226 patents last year. The medical school has received $29.2 million from outside sources to fund research.

Lium said he hopes to expand his team to ensure Mount Sinai can capitalize on opportunities that could ultimately translate into treatments.

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