New name, new leader for state’s bioscience association

BY Matthew Broderick
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Dawn Hocevar is the new president and CEO of CTBio, the state’s largest association of bioscience companies. Previously, she held leadership roles at BioSurplus Inc. and Women in Bio, a leading nonprofit with 13 U.S. chapters.
This past October, when Dawn Hocevar assumed her new role as president and CEO of CURE — Connecticut's membership association of bioscience companies — she brought more than her decades of experience in the sector to the state, she also brought a new name for the organization, BioCT.

"I wanted a name that clearly describes our role and who we are in the bio industry," said Hocevar of her 230-member association. "It's more recognizable both inside and outside the state and better aligns [with the naming] with national bio organizations and affiliates around the country."

Hocevar, who has worked in bioscience hotspots from San Francisco to Boston, and takes over BioCT from Susan Froshauer, sees a lot of positives and room for bio-sector growth in Connecticut.

"There is great passion and talent in the state, we have stellar academic institutions and are in a geographic sweet spot between Boston and New York, which can be attractive for venture capitalists to come," Hocevar said.

Those factors — buoyed by a strategic investment by the state of Connecticut through the creation of its Bioscience Innovation Fund to supply quasi-public venture capital — have fueled growth in the bioscience industry in recent years, especially among startups.

In fact, according to Connecticut's Bioscience Industry Research Report, nearly 80 percent of all Connecticut academic R&D investments are in bioscience. And the sector is projected to create more than 16,000 new permanent jobs in the state and generate additional personal income of $4.6 billion by 2037.

Making those economic projections a reality will require Connecticut to retain its home-grown bioscience startups and talent emerging from UConn and Yale, and attract more established companies.

While the state's investment in bioscience ventures — through its 'bioscience triangle' of incubator space in Hartford/Farmington, New Haven and Groton — has provided a positive return on investment, its efforts to lure larger companies has been mixed and required rich state incentives.

In 2014, for instance, the state attracted the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, which built a 183,500-square-foot facility in Farmington, with $291 million in state aid. Last year, Connecticut lost Alexion Pharmaceuticals' headquarters, which will be moving from New Haven to Boston in mid-2018.

Paul Pescatello, executive director of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's Bioscience Growth Council, said the state's long-term fiscal stability is a real challenge for the bioscience sector. He points out that the two main drivers of company creation in bioscience are the quality and quantity of academic research and private venture capital.

"We have the research, but the private investment is what we [largely] lack," Pescatello said, noting that the standard cost to bring a drug to market is more than $2.5 billion, a price tag that requires investment beyond public funding.

"Private investors in this industry are very active; they're in the labs, they're on the management boards," Pescatello said. "But [if they're considering investing in Connecticut] they're looking at the next 15 years and given the fiscal state we're in, there's going to be a lot of pressure to raise taxes and reduce services and there may not be many resources left over as incentives for life sciences."

Hopeful future

Despite Connecticut's fiscal challenges, Hocevar sees positive trends for the bioscience sector in the state.

"We need to highlight and celebrate the daily accomplishments of our members," she said, noting there are more than 1,200 clinical trials ongoing in the state. And membership in her association — heavily comprised of early stage companies — has more than doubled in the past few years.

Driving value for her members — and creating greater connections and communication across the bioscience landscape in the state — are Hocevar's primary focuses.

She said a recent member survey found that attracting and retaining talent are top priorities.

That's critically important, Pescatello said, in an industry where companies are born and die constantly.

"Most [bioscience] research projects don't make it [as businesses]," he said. "But if the [sector] cluster is big enough, people know that if a project or venture doesn't work out, there's another opportunity around the corner."

To support that demand, BioCT has created a central hub for employers and job-seekers in the industry. "It not only helps employers find talent, but also supports that talent with resources for resume writing, job interviews, career fairs, internship and volunteer opportunities," Hocevar said.

Both Hocevar and Pescatello plan to have their respective organizations work more closely together so bioscience companies speak with a more unified voice to state policymakers. In March, for instance, BioCT will be hosting a Connecticut bioscience policy day at the state Capitol, featuring industry CEOs and startups, to educate legislators about the sector's successes and struggles.

Hocevar said she would like to see more state funding available to companies after they mature out of the incubator stage.

"The state needs to create tax incentives and programs to work with companies while their growing to entice them to stay," she said.

For now, Hocevar is hoping her organization's new branding, new approaches and new collaborations send a message that when it comes to bioscience, Connecticut is open for business.