Up and coming

Houston named a top city for emerging life sciences market

Houston, home to the largest medical center in the world, was ranked the second in the nation for emerging life science clusters. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

From a real estate and employment perspective, Houston is the second in the nation for emerging life sciences market, according to a new report.

CBRE released the top 10 cities for life sciences, as well as nine cities that have seen recent growth in the industry. While the Northeast and California dominated the list of the established markets, three Texas cities took top spots on the emerging list. Austin ranked behind Houston at No. 3 and the Dallas/Fort Worth area claimed the No. 7 spot. The top emerging life science cluster was the Seattle area.

The ranking was based on each metro's three-year growth in life sciences employment, National Institutes of Health funding, life science educational opportunities, number of medical research and health-services institutions, and the amount of high-tech workers.

"We've watched the life sciences sector for quite a few years in Houston as it steadily grew, but within the past few years it has grown exponentially," says CBRE Houston's First Vice President Scott Carter in a release. "TMC3 is obviously going to be a catalyst for continued growth in life sciences."

The growth within the industry has translated from employees and research to real estate, and Carter says CBRE currently has the 224,931-square-foot Texas A&M ALKEK building on the market — most of the facility is laboratory space.

"There has been substantial interest from investors in the top established life science markets," he continues. "They recognize Houston as an emerging market and see the value of placing capital in the Houston area."

The country's venture capital funding for the industry increased 86 percent last year to $15.8 billion, and, according to the release, the lab space under construction in the top five metros for life science growth expanded 101 percent last year to 6 million square feet.

"Multiple indicators point to sustained, strong growth for the life sciences industry, which makes life sciences labs and offices an ideal focus for developers and investors," says Steve Purpura, vice chairman leading CBRE's life sciences business. "Few industries offer this much expansion potential, but much of the activity happens in a select number of special markets."

Via the CBRE report

Tom Luby will run the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

Tom Luby is in his first week as TMC Innovation Institute director, but it's safe to say he's hit the ground running. The former head of JLABS @ TMC is ready to continue the growth of the institute as well as open up new doors to funding and the rest of the world.

"My hope is that I can be helpful to all the parties here to continue to recruit and grow great startups here," Luby says. "Critically important, too, is additional funding and bringing that here. And all of us are working together toward the successful launch of TMC3."

Luby spoke with InnovationMap about what all he has on his plate and how he plans on making Houston known for its life sciences.

InnovationMap: After working for Johnson & Johnson in Boston, when did you relocate Houston?

Tom Luby: In 2017, when the opportunity came up that I can join the team in Houston and grow our JLABS at TMC, I jumped at the chance, moved my family down to Houston, and have loved it ever since. I've loved the life science startup community here — it's small, but growing quickly — and what it has to offer to our family in terms of the diversity, the friendliness of people, the ease of getting to know people, and, obviously, the weather. When you come from the northeast, the Houston weather is nice.

IM: Boston has this major life science innovation reputation. How do we get Houston to have that same reputation?

TL: It's not very fair to compare Boston and Houston. The Boston life science community is around 40 years in the making. There's been a focus on that for a very long time, and as a result of all the startup activity through the '80s, '90s and into the 2000s, Boston has seen an influx of almost all the major pharmaceutical and biotech companies. All of them have footprints there because they want to be close to the startups. So, that mix of startup activity being embedded with lots of corporates has created a bit of a yin and yang situation — corporates are looking to pull the products from the startups into their pipelines and the startups have pulled talent from the corporates.

Houston's in a different place than that. If you roll the Boston tape back lets say 20 years where Boston was focused on generating a place where life science startups could have a chance to develop and be successful, that's where Houston is. We've gotten to a point where we're starting to see a really good density. Over the past four years, over 250 companies have touched down here at some point. That type of density is needed then to do that second part and recruit some of the larger health care corporations.

IM: Coming from J&J, what expertise do you feel like you are bringing to the table?

TL: What I hope to be helpful with is providing an overall strategic vision around TMC Innovation that allows us to scale from what's already been done here. Like I just mentioned, there have been 250 companies that have been here at some point in the past four years. That doesn't happen without the great efforts of those that came before me — the TMCx team in particular, but the JLABS team, the Biodesign team down the hall have created a really interesting and rapidly growing place for health care startups.

IM: What are some of your goals for the TMC Innovation Institute?

TL: In the short term, what we're going to focus on making sure that when people show up to the TMC Innovation Institute, they have a great experience, whether they are engaged with TMCx, biodesign, JLABS, etc. So, it's important for us to be well coordinated, working cooperatively together, and everyone focused on being service first when it comes to the startups here. What we hope to create is an environment where startups come and have an experience that leaves them knowing that that experience gives them the best chance at being successful. In addition, as we begin to engage with partners who can provide venture capital and angel funds, it's the same thing, that they come here and have an efficient, coordinated experience.

So short term, it's pulling it all together so that when you think of TMC Innovation, you know what it is, how it's organized and what our mission is. We'll also be making additional efforts to engage with the member institutions in TMC, and that they understand that we're a resource to them.

IM: The current TMCx cohort is the most international to date. Between that and the new focus on TMC's biobridges, why is a global presence so important to TMC Innovation?

TL: Biobridges are about making sure that important geographies outside the US understand that the TMC is a place where their startups can come and be successful.

It's important for TMC to use the bridge to gain insight and access into specific areas that we feel that those countries have core strengths in. Australia and its clinical trials networks is a great example of that. Our companies having access to tap into that is incredibly important. We know that those bio bridges will benefit our startups and give the startups there a chance to have access to us.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.