Now is the time to collaborate for more growth within Illinois' life sciences community

Illinois' life sciences community is experiencing unprecedented growth. According to a recent report from the CBRE, venture capital investment in Chicago-area life sciences companies has increased 286% in the last year.

And Chicagoland has had the most significant increase in bioscience venture capital funding of any major U.S. market over the past three years, with nearly one million square feet of Class A lab space either delivered or under construction.

While this growth is encouraging, we cannot decrease our focus and drive to build a best-in-class life sciences ecosystem. Scientists, policymakers, business leaders and innovators must collaborate with greater intensity to help life sciences flourish in Illinois. The next three years are critical for Illinois' life sciences community, as we cement our state's reputation as a leader in the industry.

We need to ensure that the growing ecosystem is filled with exceptional talent, with a focus on pioneering innovative therapies and successful patient outcomes.

As the new chair of the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBIO), the life sciences industry association that represents the 88,000 life sciences employees in Illinois, I see how life sciences brings meaningful, lifesaving benefits to patients - as well as creates jobs and drives economic growth in our state. Life sciences is a large contributor to the Illinois economy, with overall economic output of $98 billion.

Since the 2018 TECONOMY/BIO state economic report was released, the life sciences community in Illinois has grown by another 3 percent. With the ongoing expansion of lab space, the life sciences community has the potential to add thousands of more jobs in Illinois.

In order to build on the recent expansion of life sciences work and become a desired location to draw life sciences professionals, we must prioritize three initiatives: raise awareness among policymakers, expand research partnerships with universities, and foster the next generation of innovators.

It's imperative that the life sciences community joins together with one voice to elevate industry issues to the attention of policymakers, and educate them about the value of the industry in improving patients' lives. In order to do this, large and small companies and entrepreneurs alike must collaborate to synchronize their messages and make a powerful statement to legislators.

As the saying goes, "No choir is good with their own sheet music." With that said, I'm proud to share that iBIO is in the process of creating the Illinois Life Sciences Caucus, which is a bipartisan forum for exchanging information on life sciences research and business development across Illinois' life sciences community. The goal of the caucus is to inform policies and programs to catalyze the growth of the sector and support the industry's mission to improve patients' lives.

We also need to improve the research and development tax credit to one that attracts more life sciences companies to our state.

Research and innovation must be at the center of all we do in life sciences. Without it, we cannot discover lifesaving treatments for patients. Life sciences companies must develop stronger partnerships with academic institutions in Illinois and beyond to draw talent, embrace new ideas, provide the framework for accelerators and show students that there's a place for them to build a career in our state after graduation.

Young people need mentoring and opportunities to explore the STEM fields. I believe that part of this exposure includes more companies working with children of color and disenfranchised communities, in an effort for younger generations to see individuals like themselves within the life sciences industry.

By doing so, they will introduce life sciences work to more young minds and create a multigenerational network. While time-consuming, mentorship is a valuable way to extend Illinois' life sciences reputation for years to come.

I'm passionate about expanding Illinois' life sciences footprint and innovation. In 1985 my father passed away from lung cancer. Back then, there were few viable treatments for him and the ones that existed had several awful side effects, yielding minimal improvement.

Nearly 25 years later, my mother was diagnosed with a serious cardiovascular disease. During her illness I saw the tremendous advancements that had been made within the medical field since my father's diagnosis.

As a result of research and discovery, my mother had seven more years of life beyond her initial diagnosis. I want to continue to foster an ecosystem where the life sciences community in Illinois works together to make discoveries so that others can see the tremendous benefits of this work too. Join me.

• Marilyn Vetter is group vice president of U.S. access strategy at Horizon Therapeutics in Deerfield and chair of the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBIO).

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.