Press Release

October 25, 2023

The Chicago Biomedical Consortium Announces Funding Renewal for Ambitious Phase 3 Plans to Support the Growing Life Science Industry in Chicagoland

CHICAGO, October 25, 2023 – With an additional $13.5 million of funding from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) is entering its 3rd Phase of operations. Launched in 2001 by Daniel Searle, the CBC is a unique organization that stimulates and accelerates biomedical discovery and collaboration among the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago, and Northwestern University. The CBC’s 1st Phase (2001-2016) promoted inter-institutional collaboration; the 2nd Phase (2016-2021) focused on translating member institutions’ basic research into biomedical applications. This 3rd and most recent round of funding provided over the next three years enables the CBC to continue and expand its mission to:   

  • Develop a robust academic service center that provides faculty and trainees developing therapeutics the critical centralized analytics, the industry validation, and the networks of expertise needed for early science commercialization. 
  • Create and maintain a network of expert venture capitalists who are interested in Chicago academic innovation and who will assist CBC member scientists in evaluating projects’ commercial potential.  
  • Work towards an inclusive and equitable Chicagoland life sciences landscape of institutions and industry that reflects the diversity of the city and works for all citizens of Chicago. 
  • Expand collaborations with other universities and organizations to build a “One Chicago” life sciences ecosystem that is a destination for visionary biotech companies and talent. 

While the CBC has been a staple in Chicago’s biotech environment since 2006, the organization has revamped its processes to parallel industry-grade drug development and help professors develop research and business plans. Phase 3 will centralize resources to provide academic researchers with the advice, expert networks, and funding needed to turn their science into translations. Professors’ ideas are fielded by the CBC and, through deep research, funding recommendations and research plans are developed.

According to Professor Richard I. Morimoto, the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Biology and Director of the Rice Institute for Biomedical Research at Northwestern University, one of the architects of the CBC who has been involved in all aspects of its workings, this latest iteration keeps with Dan Searle’s revolutionary vision to develop an ecosystem where the universities work cooperatively.  “The CBC pioneered crossing institutional boundaries which is exactly what Chicago needs to realize its full biomedical potential and translate lab discoveries into applications that improve human health.”  

The CBC’s goal is to partner with not just the academics but the institutions that are commercializing Chicago’s life sciences. 

Dr. Joanna Groden, Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Illinois Chicago, sees the CBC as a complement to UIC’s commercialization machinery which includes services provided by UIC’s Office of Technology Management (OTM). “The CBC’s plan to build a one-stop, full-service bio-entrepreneurial center that works side by side with university commercialization resources is ambitious but necessary. Advice provided by industry partners and experienced bio-entrepreneurs has proven essential to the success of our faculty-entrepreneurs. These expanded and cooperative activities will assist academic research teams seeking to commercialize biomedical innovations.”  

During Phase 3, CBC programming will expand to provide professors at Chicago’s flagship universities with deep market, technical, and clinical analysis, as well as project management, seed funding, and introductions to venture capital and networks of expertise critical to the success of any bioventure. The new CBC process incorporates the CBC’s Venture Board, an exclusive board of 19 industry and venture capital groups, which provides feedback and guidance to the CBC’s assessment of faculty’s early commercialization strategies. 

In addition, the CBC advises on experts and key experiments to include as the project matures. For example, one of the first beneficiaries of the new process is a project involving the modulation of a key cancer regulator from the lab of Dr. Shana Kelley, currently the President of the new Chan Zuckerberg BioHub Chicago.  Based on a collaborative presentation to the CBC Venture Board, the project received overwhelmingly positive feedback and led to CBC funding, a first-year plan, and ongoing advisement. 

“By providing professional grade analyses, seed funding, and project management, the CBC is helping our professors move their projects forward. They are a great resource to our community,” said Dr. Lisa Dhar, Associate Vice President for Innovation who oversees Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO), which works closely with the CBC on projects like Dr. Kelley’s.  

In addition to the CBC’s Venture Board, the central components of the new CBC process are: 

  • The Accelerator Award Groundwork laid in previous phases makes the CBC well-positioned to provide a level of analysis not typically available at universities. Faculty applicants work with Entrepreneurial Fellows under the guidance of Executive Director, Michelle Hoffmann PhD, and Senior Director of New Program Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Elizabeth McMath PhD to develop translational plans and commercial business cases for high-quality academic research. These plans and a case for funding are presented to the CBC’s Venture Board whose input helps the CBC determine whether to fund with the Accelerator Award, a nondilutive $250,000 grant. 
  • The Entrepreneurial Fellows Piloted in 2022, the Entrepreneurial Fellows Program inclusively finds and retains the best Midwestern junior scientists to develop faculty-driven, early-stage projects into viable commercial ventures. The program has grown to include 11 PhD Fellows, 5 of whom are from historically underrepresented groups. Fellows are paid full-time for two years to work alongside Chicago’s outstanding scientist entrepreneurs, learning the business of early science commercialization and gaining the experience necessary to become crucial players in Chicago’s burgeoning biotech ecosystem. 

According to Dr. Evan Scott, the Kay Davis Professor and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University, “working with the Entrepreneurial Fellows allowed us to view the project from a business perspective in addition to our scientific perspective. This helped us to clearly visualize a pathway to commercialization, reducing time and money to get to the clinic.” Based on the collaborative CBC analysis and feedback from the Venture Board, Dr. Scott’s work on a Type I Diabetes preventative therapeutic was selected to receive a CBC Accelerator Award. 

Since its inception in 2006, the CBC has made 323 awards ($55.1 million total) to researchers at its member universities. These awards provided early commercialization seed funding, which improved investor confidence, approaching $1 billion ($920 million) in outside funding to CBC awardees.  In Phase 3, the CBC will continue its funding of high-quality, inter-institutional academic projects, which will be validated through the CBC’s business analysis core – a key component of the academic, entrepreneurial service center. 

The CBC has a successful history of seeding innovation by bringing the academic community together.

“The CBC was really the first model in Chicago that showed the universities can collaborate on great programs in life sciences.” Said Dr Thelma Tennant, Assistant Vice President, Corporate Engagement at the University of Chicago, “The CBC demonstrates that when ideas and resources are allowed to flow freely, scientific discovery is accelerated.” 

Continuing the spirit of collaboration through Phase 3, the CBC will create the Affinity Groups. These are diverse groups of academic thought leaders who form scientific networks across member universities to identify and develop projects that address the most pressing questions in topics such as neuroscience and cancer. Through the Affinity Group Awards, the CBC will fund the most promising projects — as determined by the Affinity Group members themselves. 

“Connecting Chicago’s academic, industrial, and entrepreneurial resources will be key to fostering a vibrant and diverse biotech hub. The CBC’s long history of building relationships across academic research institutions, industry partners, and investment entities make it the perfect bridge to allow advice, capital, and talent to easily flow to where it is needed most,” said Brad Henderson, CEO of P33, a nonprofit working to transform Chicago into a tier one technology and innovation hub and promote inclusive economic growth. “It is well on its way to building the ‘One Chicago’ ecosystem necessary to take full advantage of Chicago’s burgeoning life science ecosystem.”  

In Phase 3, the CBC will expand the CBC Accelerator Network, which connects universities, scientists, experts, service providers, investors, and emerging innovation districts to form a social web that conducts knowledge, capital, experience, and advice to its members. Expansion will focus on recruiting additional universities and building partnerships with contract research organizations and industry partners, especially women and BIPOC industry professionals, who will provide advice on translating academic projects into viable commercialization projects.  

Chicago’s many assets give it the potential to become a world class biotech hub in the Midwest. CBC analysis, developed in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield and P33, highlights Chicago’s wealth of scientist-entrepreneurs, regional investments in infrastructure, and accelerators like Portal Innovations, which have brought seed capital and lab space to the region. Chicago’s universities have brought in $5.8 billion of NIH funding— growing at twice the national average over the last five years — and authored 1,365 issued patents, generating $1.3 billion in licensing revenue and a growing network of life sciences companies. 

“Chicago’s extraordinary talent pool coming from its high-quality research institutions, a steady inflow of research money, and growing startup culture make it poised to become life science’s next frontier” says Jonathan Metzl of Cushman & Wakefield. 


About The Chicago Biomedical Consortium  

The mission of the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) is to stimulate collaboration among scientists at Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago and other Chicagoland institutions to accelerate discovery and expand the Chicago based life sciences ecosystem in order to transform life science research into biomedical applications, create inclusive Chicagoland opportunities, and improve the health of humankind. 

The CBC was launched in 2006 with a generous annual grant award from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. To date, more than $76 million has been invested into CBC initiatives to promote Chicago’s biomedical community resulting in more than 323 awards granted, over 2,715 research papers published, six national research centers established and over $920 million dedicated to research funding.