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Why a Research Park in Lake County?

The perfect place to bring together game-changing research discoveries and medical entrepreneurship

Lake County, IL, boasts the highest concentration of pharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical device companies in the Midwest, including the following global company headquarters:

  • Abbott Labs
  • AbbVie
  • Baxter International
  • Akorn Pharmaceuticals
  • Hollister (medical device company)
  • Stericycle (largest medical waste management company)

The county also includes North American operations of Pfizer (Hospira), Takeda, Lundbeck, Horizon Pharma, Siemens Clinical Diagnostics, Omron, Sysmex, Toshiba Medical, Shire-Baxalta, Valent Biosciences and Pfanstiehl (pharma ingredients supplier to the industry). Finally, Walgreens Boots Alliance, the first global pharmacy-led health and well-being enterprise is headquartered in Lake County as is Medline, the largest privately-held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies. The county is also home to Cancer Treatment Centers of America Midwestern Regional Medical Center, which takes an integrated approach to cancer treatment, and home to one of the largest life science private equity firms, Roundtable Partners.

When it comes to changing and saving lives with new medical discoveries, it takes two kinds of innovators: those who forge new paths in research, and those with a passion for packaging discoveries to deliver them to the world. Startup expert Tom Denison says Lake County is uniquely teeming with both, and a research park will bring them together.

It was precisely this concentration of health sciences and biotech potential in Lake County that prompted Denison to launch SmartHealth, which serves to connect researchers with biotech businesses. He said sometimes basic connecting points are all that's needed to translate new knowledge into new lifesaving diagnostics and treatments.

"It's a team effort," Denison said. "Researchers are charged with making discoveries. People like me are charged with discovering incredible research and biotechnology and packaging it so it can reach you and me. It's about figuring out how we can take extraordinary biotechnology like what's happening at Rosalind Franklin, and get it out of the lab to commercialize it for the common good."

And it seems clear to Denison that Lake County is the ideal place to make this type of game-changing medical entrepreneurship happen.

We have the access here to large biotech and pharm companies. Rosalind Franklin has the top-tier investigators. In other words, we have the proximity and passion to solve the world's biggest healthcare challenges. What's missing is the central hub for innovation
Tom Denison

"We have the access here to large biotech and pharm companies. Rosalind Franklin has the top-tier investigators. In other words, we have the proximity and passion to solve the world's biggest healthcare challenges. What's missing is the central hub for innovation," said Denison, who will be contributing his own passion and expertise by basing his SmartHealth offices in the research park when it opens.

It's this vision for a space where people with overlapping ideas and different capabilities can come together that's driving Rosalind Franklin University's development of a research park. SmartHealth has already committed to leasing space in the research park when it opens.

Bringing everyone together under one roof streamlines the translation of discoveries by our scientists into diagnostics and therapeutics
Ronald Kaplan

"The research park will offer a co-location for academia, startups and small- and mid-size biotech firms," said Ronald Kaplan, executive vice president for research at RFU. "Bringing everyone together under one roof streamlines the translation of discoveries by our scientists into diagnostics and therapeutics."

Jeff Sherman, a 1981 graduate of Chicago Medical School who worked in research and development at Bristol-Myers Squibb before returning to the Chicago area and ultimately joining Horizon Pharma as its executive vice president for research and development and chief medical officer, agrees: Lake County is already the site of a "biotech cluster," and a research park will help connect the dots.

"A research park creates a strong, symbiotic relationship for companies that might not have the research infrastructure by allowing them to leverage the expertise at the university," Sherman said.

Collaborating with RFU colleges and scientists is something Horizon Pharma has already been doing, particularly through connections with the College of Pharmacy. But Sherman said many in the area don't know about the level of research happening at RFU and how they can leverage it.

"Local companies need to know there's an integrated health sciences university right in their backyard that can be of service to them and the community in many ways," Sherman said. "They can help facilitate what companies are doing, and they're right here. There isn't a need to travel thousands of miles to collaborate with top scientists."

With the development of the research park, many in the industry might only have to travel steps to collaborate with RFU researchers. In addition to lab facilities for RFU scientists, the research park will offer space to house biotech and pharma companies — from small startups to off-site offices for large, established corporations.

"A research park isn't just about offices and labs — it's also about providing spaces for people to gather and talk, and to share ideas," Denison said. "When you add to the mix of researchers people from places like Abbott, AbbVie, Pfizer, you essentially have biotechnology happening at every stage, in the same space, with everyone rubbing elbows."

The vision is an exciting one for Denison, not just in terms of the potential advances in health science, but also in how North Chicago and the surrounding community will benefit.

"This research park has the wonderful potential to have an impact locally, in terms of socioeconomics, as well as globally in terms of health."