At the 124,000-square foot Cambridge headquarters of Mass Innovation Labs, co-founder & CEO Amrit Chaudhuri points to a cluster of tables and identifies them one by one: This startup went public and did a massive deal with Merck (NYSE:MRK), he says, and sits shoulder-to-shoulder with a different company working on a Phase II clinical asset.
More than a dozen startups call Mass Innovation Labs home, with groups working on projects ranging from immunoncology to genomics to medical devices. The organization launched in 2015, with the hope of helping startups by taking on the role of COO.
“Effectively, our concept was there has to be a better way of doing research,” Chaudhuri told Drug Delivery Business News. “Having built companies that do research, it is a cumbersome, capitally expensive and really risky thing to do. And I’m not just even talking about the quality of research you’re doing. Just getting a high-quality place that is the appropriate place to research is really, really hard.”
Large pharmaceutical companies have their own way of doing reseach – by creating institutional spaces with multiple departments that help scientists think and create.
But small to mid-sized biotechs usually don’t have those resources.
“They have to go it alone,” Chaudhuri explained. “They have to build their own infrastructure, commit to making plans in year one, year five, year 10 that may be obsolete in two, three years. It’s a really ineffective, inefficient part of our industry.”
So in 2015, alongside co-founder and CFO Seth Taylor, Chaudhuri opened the company’s first facility in the middle of Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass.
“Our first 12 to 15 companies in the first 30 months of us being around have now raised $5 billion – 70% of which is coming from pharma partnerships,” he told us. “We have an IPO rate of early stage start-ups of 18%. To give you some context, I think [Johnson & Johnson’s] JLabs, judging from public information, that rate is 2%.”
Mass Innovation Labs’ goal is to help startups deal with all of the administrative and logistical tasks that come with doing research – things like maintaining an animal research facility, putting together a laboratory with the right equipment and adhering to state and federal safety laws.
The company is not an incubator, Chaudhuri pointed out. If incubators are like hostels for startups to work within, Mass Innovation Labs is a Four Seasons, according to the chief executive.
Imagine you’re a startup with a brilliant idea, Chaudhuri explained, and a venture capital firm gives you $50 million to help build your company and bring a product to market.
“You have to get real estate, build it. If it’s already built, customize it, build an operating program, hire the staff – go through the whole process. The minimum is around nine months and it can take as long as 12 to 15 months for some companies. We take that process down to two to four weeks, because it’s already built, it’s already staffed. All the protocols and policies are in place, all the permits are there. So it’s like a walk-in solution for how you do research.”
Member companies within Mass Innovation Labs have included CRISPR Therapeutics, Editas Medicine (NSDQ:EDIT), C4 Therapeutics and others. And the organization itself is expanding rapidly around Boston.
Mass Innovation Labs has inked deals to add three new sites around Boston in the last month – one at Innovation Square in the Seaport, another in the Sidney Research Campus in Cambridge and a third at Boston Landing. All together, the research accelerator will have nearly 190,000 square feet of lab and office space.
For Chaudhuri, his vision remains the same as it did when he first started Mass Innovation Labs: to create something that helps startups do their best work.
“Biotech is a bit like building your ship while sailing it,” he said. “When you build a drug company, you have to build the infrastructure for the drug company while using that infrastructure to try to execute your research. And what we’re telling you is, you can build your ship while sailing it or here’s a ship for you.”