A new bioscience incubator is opening on L.A.’s Westside. It was set up and will be operated by the Westwood-based Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation, a nonprofit research foundation founded by a former UCLA professor and organ transplant pioneer.
The incubator has been operating in stealth mode for the last few months, with two tenants already in place. The official opening is set for next month at a Terasaki Institute building in the Sawtelle neighborhood.
Terasaki’s incubator joins several others in the county, including Biolabs at the Lundquist Institute in Torrance, ScaleHealth in Palms and Biospace LA at California State University Los Angeles in El Sereno.
Unlike some incubators, Terasaki Institute’s incubator plans to focus on academic bioscience researchers looking to commercialize their research.
“The Terasaki Institute is a home for those academic researchers that want to take their science all the way, often combining their academic achievements with entrepreneurship,” said Maurizio Vecchione, the institute’s chief innovation officer. “Our incubator is an accelerator for these types of academic entrepreneurs and their companies that provides both the core scientific product development resources as well as the business support to perform this translation.”
That was the vision of the late Paul Terasaki, a professor at UCLA and a pioneer of organ transplantation. Terasaki, who was born in Los Angeles in 1929, spent three years of his adolescence in a Japanese internment camp in Gila, Arizona, during World War II. A few years after the war, he came back to Los Angeles and obtained both bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in zoology from UCLA. He stayed on at UCLA, studying skin graft transplants in chickens and developing a toxicity test for organ transplants.
Terasaki founded the institute in 1990, both as a place to continue developing transplant technologies and to spur the practice of therapies tailored to individual patients. The institute was affiliated with UCLA.
After Terasaki’s death in 2016, his family continued to fund the institute, which grew to include the Sawtelle building that now houses the incubator and a $15 million, 50,000-square foot laboratory facility that opened last fall in Woodland Hills.
Stewart Han, the institute’s president, said that about a year ago, as the Warner Center lab space was nearing completion, plans were drawn up to convert the West Los Angeles facility to an incubator.
“We had been strategically looking to diversify our revenue stream which had been primarily endowment,” Han said.
Vecchione said that instead of having the incubator tenants pay rent, the institute will take an equity stake in each of its tenants.
Two tenants moved into the incubator earlier this year: OMeat, a celluar agriculture company, and OnVegus a neuro-stimulation company. Both companies were spun out of UCLA research facilities.
A third company, Westwood-based Nammi Therapeutics Inc., is set to move in formally next month when the incubator officially opens. Nammi is developing a targeted immunotherapy platform to treat cancers. The company spent the last five years at UCLA’s Magnify incubator. But with its term there ending, Nammi was on the lookout for another incubator, according to chief executive David Stover.
One of the key features that attracted Nammi to the Terasaki Institute’s incubator was the ability to access various technology platforms.
Vecchione said it offers some benefits.
“There are many bioscience incubators in the region,” Vecchione said. “However, the specific biomedical applied science infrastructure and technology — together with specialized staff to effectively translate biomedical innovation — is rarely put under one roof.”