Jeff Aronin on Booming Life Sciences Success in Chicago

Jeff Aronin on Booming Life Sciences Success in Chicago
Photo : Jeff Aronin on Booming Life Sciences Success in Chicago

Chicago is in the midst of a biotech influx, with expansive lab space planned for development. The recent growth can be largely attributed to a year focused on science and medical advancement due to the pandemic. Innovative life science leaders like Jeff Aronin continue to expand and launch companies, investing in the city even during a challenging year.

When ranking biotech by city, Chicago was named among the top cities for biotech in the list for Top 10 U.S. Biopharma Clusters by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. The list was based on five criteria:

  • NIH funding

  • Venture capital (VC) funding

  • Patents

  • Lab space

  • Jobs

Within the list, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News notes that record-high lab space expansions and funding were direct responses to the global pandemic. Chicago ranks 10th on the list, slightly behind some smaller cities, like Seattle, San Diego, and Philadelphia, but the list shows growth across the board for life science companies.

"With respect to the industry, 2020 is the ultimate paradox: The worst year of our lives, yet the greatest year ever for the life science industry," stated Alexandria Real Estate Equities' executive chairman and founder Joel S. Marcus. "[There's] much work to do to rebuild businesses and lives so devastatingly impacted, and I would say, it's going to take a good part of this decade to do that for many people who've been really so devastated."

According to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, Chicago ranks the lowest of the listed cities with lab space, with only 3.4 million square feet, but this is something companies like Paragon Biosciences plan to change.

The list notes a series of planned developments, including over 400,000 square feet of lab space, that are set to open this year. A $9 million project named Rebuild Illinois Wet Lab Capital Program will expand lab access space for incubators, corporations, start-ups, and university researchers, matching the state funding requirements. Recently, a $7 billion mixed-use project covering 100 acres was approved to establish the Chicago ARC (Accelerate, Redesign, Collaborate) Innovation Building. This space will support life science users who are working on precision medicine, biopharma, artificial intelligence, and big data.

Paragon Biosciences is planning annual investments of up to $500 million in biopharmaceuticals, synthetic biology utilizing artificial intelligence, and cell and gene therapy. The Chicago-based life sciences incubator is supporting its portfolio companies as they work to advance the industry. Since 2017, Paragon and its partners have invested around $1 billion in its life science companies, which include Evozyne, a molecular engineering technology company that creates artificial proteins and CiRC Biosciences, a cell therapy company developing treatments for serious diseases with an initial focus on the eye. 

Paragon Biosciences Founder, Chairman and CEO Jeff Aronin notes, "Even with the numerous scientific advancements being made, almost daily, there are currently 7,000 diseases that still have no treatment at all. There is a huge need to focus on treatments for conditions with high unmet needs."

With a calling to help patient populations with serious conditions who have been overlooked by larger pharma companies, Aronin shifted his focus and career.  

In 2000, Jeff Aronin started Ovation to focus on treatment solutions for conditions with high unmet needs. The company received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for four drugs in eight years-a huge feat. Ovation continued to grow until it was sold to Lundbeck A/S for $900 million.

Dovetailing on this success, Aronin founded Paragon Biosciences. Now, his company creates, builds and invests in companies and technologies for high unmet needs that can solve some of the world's greatest challenges. 

Aronin has successfully established seven portfolio companies under Paragon-Castle Creek Biosciences, CiRC Biosciences, Emalex Biosciences, Evozyne, Harmony Biosciences, Qlarity Imaging, and Skyline Biosciences-and maintains a consistent flow of incubating companies created and supported by the Paragon Innovation CapitalTM model. 

As a life science leader, Aronin continues to discover and support innovative solutions with tremendous potential. He feels Chicago is a breakout metro hub for life sciences companies and he is committed to heavily contributing to its growth.

Not all companies are poised for success. As a biosciences leader with over 30 years of industry experience in the Chicago life science scene, Aronin believes there are three key areas that leading companies should remain focused on:

Meaningful Work: "Developing and building companies that drive transformation to solve some of society's most intractable human and environmental health challenges is at the center of what we do and that is why we are incredibly successful."  

The Need: "It is easy to become enamored with the excitement of science and new technology, often resulting in the loss of focus on the need. When addressing an unmet need, it is important to keep the focus on the why. Why does our work matter? Why are we trying to solve this problem?"

Innovation: "When you are innovating, you are doing something that is meaningful and impactful-advancing science and discovering treatments and therapies-improving our system to better help people."

Aronin has created and built companies focused on these values. Now is the time for top companies to focus on advancements that are needed, meaningful and innovative.

About Jeff Aronin

Jeff Aronin has created thousands of job opportunities in Chicago and worldwide building life science companies. His work has brought about important U.S. FDA approvals for new medicines and technologies. He is also the founder and chairman of MATTER, which supports healthcare startups as a nonprofit organization.

Jeff has received numerous honors and distinctions, including Entrepreneur Award and Executive of the Year Award from BIG Awards for Business, Top 10 Inspiring CEOs from Insights Success Magazine, Innovator of the Year from Best in Biz, Leadership Award from Weizmann, Humanitarian Award from the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.

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