Provides Roadmap for an Innovation District to Keep Chicago from Losing Ground

Despite appearances, Chicago’s life sciences industry is ailing in terms of growth and patient and community outcomes. Yet the industry is seemingly healthy in Chicago and thriving nationally. A seminal new white paper by the Illinois Medical District explains this trend and details how an innovation district that brings life sciences and tech together will help both sectors grow, stay competitive, benefit the City and State—and most notably, improve local health outcomes, particularly in underserved communities.

In Illinois, the life sciences industry employs over 85,000 people and generates over $98 billion in annual economic output statewide, which amounts to 12% of the State’s GDP, an Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization report noted.  Yet in Chicago, industry employment has fallen 13.6% and R&D has been cut in half as many area pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies moved much of their R&D operations out-of-state, CBRE’s Life Science Report said.

Illinois Medical District’s report, Restoring Chicago’s Life Science Leadership | A State and City Partnership, explains why it’s critical to address this issue now. By highlighting life science and technology trends that spur greater economic and community success, the report makes a salient case for establishing an innovation district in Chicago. It also offers strategic execution guidelines that call for support from all levels of government and private- and public-sector companies.

“When we talk about biotech startups or expanding the life science industry, we almost always speak in economic terms, as if these two sectors are interchangeable.  But life sciences are about serving real people—saving lives and making them better,” Suzet McKinney, Illinois Medical District CEO, said. “This is poignant in Chicago because its most underserved communities are home to some of the nation’s top research universities and hospitals.”

Chicago’s South Side is home to the University of Chicago and its highly ranked medical center, and the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side anchors two top medical universities and four renowned teaching hospitals. This begs the obvious:  why are these communities unable to access the healthcare they clearly need, and how to we better serve them?

“We can’t discuss expanding the life science industry in Chicago without putting people and their health first,” McKinney said. “It’s time for the state and city to get involved and insist on a responsible expansion that strengthens Chicago’s national position as a life sciences leader before it loses more ground –and serves underserved communities at the same time.”

Public-private partnerships are a solution. Venture capital to life sciences has surged 86% over the past year, which has helped New York achieve significant momentum through public-private partnerships that include 1.5million sq. ft. of lab space under development, CBRE’s 2019 Life Sciences Clusters report noted.

The Bay Area and Boston MSA are home to the nation’s leading life science clusters, but Chicago is currently in 10th place, per CBRE. With focus and commitment, Chicago can become the “Third Coast” of life science centers. But it will require the City, State and private and public partners to unite on a grand scale.