Chicago will be the home of a new $250M biotech research hub funded by a group led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan — beating out fellow finalists San Diego and New York City for the project and positioning the city closer to its goal of becoming a top-tier life sciences player.
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founder Dr. Priscilla Chan onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt on Sept. 6, 2018, in San Francisco.
A joint research effort between the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was selected Thursday to operate the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Chicago, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s second such facility nationally. The first CZ Biohub was founded in San Francisco in 2016, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker will also throw in $25M in state funding to support the project. Pritzker said the hub would bring together leading scientific and technology institutions to study human tissue with an eye toward creating new, groundbreaking therapeutics.
“Illinois continues to grow as a thriving innovation hub with world-class research institutions and top-tier talent,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Illinois is home to the best and brightest minds and I look forward to seeing their new discoveries help people around the world.”
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will dole out funding over a decade, eventually building a lab that will employ 30 to 50 researchers and other staff, led by Shana Kelley, a biotech researcher who recently joined Northwestern from the University of Toronto, Crain’s Chicago Business reported.
Funds from the foundation will also be channeled to researchers at the three universities involved, supporting “high-risk research programs that might otherwise not be funded by conventional sources,” per Crain’s.
Chicago researchers beat out 60 other teams from across the country to secure the funding, the Tribune reported.
Northwestern University Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich told the paper the biohub would be a “real boost” to the city’s ecosystem.
“We were up against teams that included Harvard and Cal Tech and MIT, and really every place in the country,” Mrksich said. “For the team here of Northwestern, University of Chicago and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to win the competition is really exciting.”
In an interview with Bisnow late last year, Sterling Bay Director of Life Sciences Suzet McKinney said building up a strong science and medical ecosystem was the city’s biggest hurdle to taking on the likes of Boston and San Francisco in the sector. Chicago came in 10th among the top 25 life sciences research talent clusters in a 2022 CBRE ranking.
“Chicago, which has a wealth of science-based resources, such as research hospitals, universities and leading pharma companies, will continue to see industry growth but will, nonetheless, have work to do growing its life sciences ecosystem,” McKinney said, adding that meant a proliferation of startups collaborating with hospitals and university researchers to form partnerships and drive industry growth.
Mrksich told Crain’s the biohub would put the city on the map, positioning it as a world leader in integrating engineering and biology.
“There will be many benefits from new discoveries that get patented, lead to biotech spinoffs and attract capital,” he told the paper.
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