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New York City steps up competition with Boston for life-science jobs

America's biggest city is betting $500 million on building up its biopharma industry, taking aim at more established hubs such as Boston, officials from the nonprofit New York City Economic Development Corporation told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Unveiled by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Dec. 13, the bulk of the plan calls for $300 million in tax incentives for investment in commercial lab space, an area where New York City lags Boston. Other components include a $100 million investment in an applied life-sciences facility, $50 million to create new research and development facilities and $7.5 million in financing for startups. Along with a variety of other steps to strengthen the local industry, the goal is to bring 16,000 new jobs to the city, officials said.

"When you look at National Institutes of Health funding, we are number two behind Boston, and not too far behind, with over $1.5 billion coming in every year," said Raphael Farzan-Kashani, the development corporations' director of life-sciences initiatives. "When you include philanthropy, we are actually the largest-funded city in the nation in terms of biomedical research."

The LifeSci NYC initiative will help close the gap with Boston, which has 18 times as much commercial lab space as New York City, the officials said. Massachusetts also leads on venture-capital funding for the industry, receiving $1.32 for every dollar of NIH funding, compared to 6 cents for New York state and 48 cents in the nation as a whole, according to a report by the Partnership Fund for New York City.

The initiative aims to increase the pace of company formation by addressing New York City's life-sciences personnel issue by reaching out to founders of early-stage companies to encourage them to grow and stay in the city, the officials said.

"We have a lot of the research talent and the technical talent," said the development corporation's senior vice president, Anthony Hogrebe. "What we don't necessarily have is the high concentration of experienced managers and entrepreneurs with a record of actually standing up, growing and running life-science firms in particular. Part of what we're trying to do with this program is to tap into more of that talent."

The rollout of the city's plan coincided with the launch of a separate state government program to invest $650 million in the sector throughout New York.

"It's nice to see New York getting into the fight for this ecosystem," said venture capitalist David Mott, general partner at New Enterprise Associates. "A lot of the things that Boston and Cambridge have had going for them are present in New York," he said, citing the plethora of key academic and medical institutions, such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, easy access to financiers and the presence of big pharma companies such as Pfizer Inc.

"Certainly five years ago, before these initiatives were taking shape, I wouldn't have thought of New York as a place a where I would consider investing in or building an early biotech company," Mott said.

He noted that the development of the city's Alexandria Center for Life Science, which attracted Roche Holding Ltd. to the region in 2013, and the recent launch of an early stage life-sciences fund that seeks to deploy $150 million in public and private investment by 2020.

"I looked at that fund and I talked to some of the people. It didn't end up being a good fit for something that NEA was going to participate in, but it's nice to know that they've done that, and I think that it will help the ecosystem," Mott said. NEA is not currently financing any New York City or state-based biopharma companies.

The critical difference between two cities is the deep pool of life-sciences entrepreneurs found in the Boston area, Mott said.

"The competition is the Boston community, which is extraordinarily vibrant like I have not seen before in my 30 years of doing biopharma development," Mott said over the phone, while standing in Cambridge's Technology Square. "I have so many (Cambridge-based) companies in my personal portfolio that I have an office here and am probably here 100 days a year."