As a born and raised New Yorker, I was disappointed when I read the New York Post by James Altucher: “NYC is forever dead – here’s why.” I’ve lived in the city for over 40 years and for most of my adult life. I’ve stayed in town since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March and decided not to leave, even though I live in close proximity to all of the east-facing hospitals between 14th and 34th Streets. It was heartbreaking to drive down FDR Drive and see the number of refrigerated morgues increase almost daily. During those darkest months, fear and fear reigned as New York City struggled to bring the pandemic under control.
Fast forward to now. We have been able to “flatten” the curve in our city thanks to people who followed public health guidelines by wearing masks and social distancing. New Yorkers saw the horror of this uncontrolled virus firsthand and understood the enemy they were up against. And we took the opportunity.
As a networker and connector in the life sciences industry, my career has been geared towards bringing people together to solve problems, form collaborations, and drive this industry forward through personal events. When the pandemic first broke out, it was an extremely dark and difficult time for me as our team was about to launch a new international investor and business development conference in New York City called BioFuture to be held in April at the Lotte Palace Hotel in Midtown.
As the CEO and founder of Demy-Colton, a company dedicated to promoting growth and advancement in the life sciences and digital medicine by creating specialized industry conferences and events, my entire career has been dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs and businesses, who focus on developing innovative new products to improve patient life and care therapies. What could we do to continue our mission after this face-to-face meeting was impossible? I saw my whole company and everything I built before my eyes and really wondered how we could adapt to this “new normal”.
Prior to founding Demy-Colton in 2008, I was vice president of business development and investor relations for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). I spent more than a decade as the Director of Foreign Investment at Empire State Development Corporation, where I was first introduced to the pharmaceutical and biotech communities. In fact, the first person to run the New York Biotechnology Association, NYBio, was featured at a global biotech event I organized many years ago!
So it can be said that I have watched the New York life science community transition from a large global research center to an emerging center for life sciences and digital medicine over the past few decades. Only in the past decade has NYC’s strength in the life sciences come more focus – and it’s long overdue.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen New York welcome innovative life sciences, medical device, and digital health companies from around the world. New York City and the Empire State have now grown into one of the largest biotech centers in the US and one of the largest on the East Coast, after Boston.
In 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $ 650 million initiative to grow a new world-class life science cluster in New York. Last September, NYCEDC and Deerfield Management announced a partnership to create a life science campus – MATTER to create LifeSci NYC’s newest incubator.
Demand for life science space in New York City, which is home to 60% of the country’s pharmaceutical industry, is thriving amid the pandemic. According to a recent CBRE report, the financing and deal flow will continue well into the second quarter. According to the report, New York City’s life science sector continues to thrive in an otherwise challenging time for traditional office tenants. Laboratory tenants continue to expand in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to respond to the continued momentum and robust flow of funding from venture capital and NIH funding sources.
I watched the Alexandria Center for Life Science grow over the years into a sprawling 728,000 square foot campus on the East River in Kips Bay. Alexandria rented nearly 20,000 square feet in April to BlueRock Therapeutics, a billion dollar cell therapy company that Bayer acquired in August.
The amazing thing about New York City is also our relentless commitment to diversity. Demy-Colton is a passionate advocate of diversity in all forms and is committed to promoting inclusion in all of our events, both in person and virtual. As the founder of Biotech Showcase, I led the movement on the topic of “Manels” and committed myself to ensuring gender-specific diversity in all committees at all events.
We recently launched a new virtual event initiative, the Virtual Salon Series, which is free to anyone working in the life sciences or digital health fields. We featured the latest in science, ranging from gene editing to our latest panel, Futurescaping of Oncology. Our Fireside Chat series introduces Mike Gaito, Global Head of Healthcare Banking, Amy Abernethy, Assistant Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, and many others.
I received many comments from executives, academics, researchers, and C-level investors in our industry emphasizing the importance of connecting with one another at this unprecedented time. They seemed to really appreciate our newly launched Virtual Salon range and the opportunity for further dialogue.
I love this city and will continue to make connections, promote inclusion, and nurture interesting new startups from around the city and around the world.
And no – New York is not dead. We’re just getting started.
Sara Demy is one of the most influential networkers and connectors in the life science industry. As the CEO and founder of Demy-Colton, a leading organizer of life science events, she brings over 22 years of experience launching, developing and designing high-profile investor and business development conferences in the healthcare industry.