Originally written by Jeremie Oliver at Utah Business
It’s no longer a secret that the state of Utah is a successful incubator of life science and biotechnology-based startups. According to numerous sources over the past several years—including US News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal—Utah is an epicenter of growth and development for successful companies to launch and thrive.
The collaborative hub for several life science start-up companies in the greater Salt Lake City area, Altitude Lab’s first cohort has secured upwards of $54 million in seed funding while incubating at the Lab. The lineup of companies that secured this funding includes 3Helix, ePurines, Known Medicine, NexEos Bio, Peel Therapeutics, Rebel Medicine, and Teiko Bio.
Located at the University of Utah Research Park, the Altitude Lab incubator space is building a new, representative generation of founders to seed the next cycle of healthcare innovation in Utah’s BioHive. Maintaining a close connection to the resources and expertise at the University of Utah research empire—as well as the many booming biotechnology giants in the area—companies establishing their roots at Altitude Lab are fortunate to find support in many different arenas.
“From the earliest days of starting Peel Therapeutics, we knew that ‘this [was] the place,” says Joshua Schiffman, founder of Peel Therapeutics. “Nowhere else but in Utah have we been met with such an embracing spirit of entrepreneurship and pioneering effort to change the world of medicine. Our Utah-Israeli biotech originated with the cancer-fighting proteins in elephants, and we quickly recognized the power of evolution to provide first-in-class medicines for cancer and inflammation.
With the encouragement of the Utah community, including multiple early investors from Salt Lake City and Park City, Peel has moved quickly to receive FDA clearance to start our first Phase 1 clinical trial for advanced solid tumors. This trial is for PEEL-224, a cancer drug modified from a tree toxin to overcome chemoresistance. We are thrilled to bring evolutionary medicine to the thriving BioHive community!”
Schiffman is not alone in receiving this resounding support from BioUtah and the BioHive community. Recursion Pharmaceuticals and the University of Utah’s PIVOT Center (Partners in Innovation, Ventures, Outreach, and Technology) initially established the Altitude Lab hub as an incubator to fill the critical role of finding, supporting, and cultivating early-stage healthcare startups in Utah.
Altitude Lab’s first cohort of seven startups was enlisted in winter 2020. Of that cohort, six closed seed financing within 18 months of joining the program. This has led to the employment and support of over 60 employees.
Funding mechanisms have come primarily through venture capital and angel investors, with the Lab’s investor coalition members being a partnered network of leading healthcare venture capitalists. They have directly mentored and advised incubated startups and helped establish vital collaborations with biopharma and health systems, including partnerships for 3Helix with renowned companies Roche Diagnostics and Collagen Matrix.
This first cohort of startup companies at the Altitude Lab incubator will complete their cycle within the next year. The Lab is already looking forward to recruiting its next class of promising healthcare and life science startups. There is great optimism for the continued cycling of up-and-coming companies stemming from the success of this initial cohort.
Utah is undoubtedly attracting some of the best, brightest, and most energetic life sciences founders and investors. And now more than ever, we are seeing the financial backing to translate these lofty dreams of BioUtah innovation into reality.