As we entered the 21st Century, Indiana’s leaders looked to better understand which industry sectors could drive our economy into the future that would provide good jobs for Hoosiers, increase investment from inside and outside the state, attract the best and brightest from other places, and keep our own homegrown talent from leaving the state to pursue opportunities.   Life sciences, manufacturing and information technology were all identified as important sectors for the future. 

Life sciences was of special interest because it generated good wages well above the state’s average, attracted significant federal funding to our research universities, was driven by innovation seen as a critical factor for economic growth, and Indiana already had a critical mass of companies throughout the state with a particularly high concentration in pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

Indiana’s strength in life sciences is rooted in the entrepreneurial spirit of people who advanced new pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics and impacted how healthcare is delivered.  From pharmaceutical pioneer Colonel Eli Lilly to orthopedic innovators Revra Depuy, Justin Zimmer, and Dane Miller to diagnostic inventor Willard “Bill” Eason to Bill Cook, who focused on minimally invasive med devices, to Bill Hillenbrand, who saw the potential to bring the home into the hospital – each started companies in Indiana that have grown to billion-dollar institutions employing thousands of Hoosiers and impacting millions worldwide.  The question was how to identify those strategies that would allow Indiana to be successful even as many other states were pursuing these same sectors.  The Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative (CILSI) was put together to figure it out.

Our “X” factor was people.  I was lucky enough to see true genius at work in the early days of BioCrossroads when Dr. August Watanabe was recruited to our cause by community leaders including Anne Shane and Dave Goodrich.  Dr. Watanabe had recently retired as head of Lilly Research Labs and had previously served as the chairman of the Department of Medicine at IU School of Medicine.  Working with a small but dedicated team, Dr. Watanabe led a truly collaborative community effort with generous support from the Lilly Endowment, using best practices from academia, industry, and an entrepreneurial vision to design a plan focused on capital, collaboration, communication, and workforce.  With substantial support from Eli Lilly and Company and loaned-executive Chuck Schalliol to serve as the first president and CEO, CILSI was renamed as BioCrossroads to implement these strategies.

Within a year, Mitch Daniels was elected governor and Chuck joined the administration as budget director.  Long-time community volunteer David Johnson was tapped to lead the organization and Dr. Watanabe continued to serve as chair.  Claire Roberts led the team focused on evidenced based medicine and within two years, the Indiana Health Information Exchange (IHIE) was formed; today, 95% of the state’s hospitals are connected.  Ron Meeusen, a loaned executive from Dow Agrosciences, headed up an effort which developed Indiana’s first agricultural strategic plan leading to the appointment of the state’s first secretary of agriculture. Our team grew throughout the years with Brian Stemme, Troy Hege, Matt Hall, Lori LeRoy, and others joining Gus, Anne, David, Julie Routt, Brenda Bratton, and me to identify and support other significant collaborations that strengthen our life sciences ecosystem. 

Even more importantly, leadership from Indiana’s academic, industry, and government sectors provided their leadership and support of our formative efforts:  Craig Brater, dean of IUSM; Martin Jischke, then-president of Purdue University; former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and Director of Economic Development Melina Kennedy; Steve Paul, then-president of Lilly Research Labs; Sam Nussbaum, chief medical officer of Anthem; Wayne Burris, then-CFO of Roche; Dan Peterson, executive of Cook Group; Dan Evans, then-CEO of IU Health, Jerome Peribere, then President of Dow Agrosciences; and university presidents of IU and Notre Dame.  These institutions have continued to be highly engaged with BioCrossroads throughout leadership changes.  And our base has only expanded with essential involvement by the State of Indiana, many orthopedic companies at home in Warsaw, Elanco, LabCorp, and nearly every significant asset in life sciences including philanthropic organizations like Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. 

And, it has worked.  What began as a $32 billion sector in 2002 has grown to $79 billion in 2021.  Venture capital investment moved from under $20 million in 2002 to more than $400 million last year.  NIH funding to our research universities has more than doubled and wages continue to be the best in the state. All of this progress was helped by individuals dedicated to making a positive difference.  Prominent researchers including Richard DiMarchi and Phil Low showed how innovation from university labs could attract funding and transition to approved treatments that lessen the burden of disease and improve the lives of patients.  Our capital and seed fund programs invested in these efforts along with dozens of other innovative companies based on innovation and talent resident here.

Most recently, we’ve seen the impact collective engagement can achieve with the establishment of the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, led by Alan Palkowitz, focused on translational research that advances academic and industry science; 16 Tech, a 50-acre innovation district located in the heart of the city and a part of three strong neighborhoods including Haughville, Ransom Place and Riverside; and AnalytiXIN, a program to develop a digital community to strengthen connections of academic data science R&D talent with their industry peers to drive sustained innovation within the state.   

Indiana Hoosiers rely on our state’s life sciences sector and our nation benefits from our innovations.  BioCrossroads remains the place for a collective response to a changing environment.  In late 2019, Patty Martin became just the fourth leader of BioCrossroads, and Darshan Shah became our first Chief Data Officer.  As I prepare to retire from BioCrossroads after nearly two decades, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from so many and to see the impact leaders can make. 

Nora Doherty is Executive Vice President of Strategy / Managing Director of Seed Funds at BioCrossroads.

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