Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday disclosed plans for a downtown biopharma center designed to assist startups and house companies—an announcement coinciding with industry leaders gathering in the Windy City for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2013 International Convention.

The planned Bioscience & Pharmaceutical Industry Commercialization and Innovation Center will be filled in part by the city-based biotech consortium Chicago Innovation Mentors and its partners, which include Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Argonne laboratories, and iBIO Institute’s PROPEL Center, which assists life-sci startups. iBIO Institute was created in 2003 by the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization (iBIO) to draw business support for life-sci education and business startup programs.

While the center is envisioned primarily for startups, the city said it will also allow for downtown offices by biopharma giants. Several of them are either based in suburbs of Chicago, such as Abbott Laboratories and its new prescription-drug spinoff AbbVie; or have U.S. headquarters in the region, such as Japanese drug developers Astellas Pharma and Takeda Pharmaceutical.

No big-name biopharmas have yet surfaced as planning to move into the facility. Instead, the center has received commitments for space by Diagnostic Photonics, a cancer diagnostics startup; medical device maker Novian Health; healthcare IT company Pervasive Health; and the biotech research services business Shamrock Structures.

Also lacking in center plans, for now, is a precise location, though a leader for the project’s development effort has emerged: Jeffrey Aronin, founder, chairman and CEO of Paragon Pharmaceuticals, an investment firm that creates, builds, and manages pharmaceutical companies; and a board member of the not-for-profit economic development organization World Business Chicago, which is chaired by Mayor Emanuel.

“This important project furthers my vision to strengthen Chicago’s place as the hub of the bioscience industry by partnering with leading companies, universities and venture capital firms to promote large and small businesses in the city,” the mayor said. “I look forward to working with all members of the biotech community to make the City of Chicago the best place to innovate and commercialize these technologies.”

The biotech center will be based loosely on 1871, an existing co-working center for digital startups launched last year and based at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

The new center joins other recently announced projects to promote Chicago as a life-sci hub. Northwestern Medicine—a consortium of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, and Northwestern Memorial HealthCare—announced plans in January to build a $1 billion, 1.2 million-square-foot biomedical research facility in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. Also, the University of Chicago has expanded its biotech presence in recent  years, while the University of Illinois has spent more than a decade growing the Illinois Medical District, which includes 560 acres of medical research facilities, labs, biotech business incubator, raw development area, universities, and more than 40 healthcare related facilities.

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