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Giving international companies a soft place to land in Philadelphia

Adaptimmune laboratory � Scientist cloning a TCR

A rendering of Adaptimmune's new headquarters at the Navy Yard

The University City Science Center

Adaptimmune laboratory � Scientists growing research cells

Adaptimmune laboratory � Scientists growing a cell therapy product

The University City Science Center may be physically planted in West Philadelphia, but its reach goes around the world.

In nearly 10 years, the Center's Global Soft Landing (GSL) program has helped roughly 50 companies from 14 countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and Canada, establish footholds in the U.S. market. The initiative provides a wide range of services and support for everything from cultural assimilation and translation services to visa problems and tax issues.

According to Adam Greenspan, director of business incubation at the Science Center, GSL is an extension of their primary economic development mission. For the participating companies, affiliation with GSL means proximity to the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem and knowledge community, access to a well-trained workforce, and support in doing business in a foreign country.

Dawn Flitcraft, COO and general manager of Keosys Medical Imaging, headquartered in France, says the Science Center has been an invaluable resource. The University City institution has helped her company with everything from building an English language website to retaining attorneys familiar with the issues facing U.S. subsidiaries of European life sciences companies. 

"If you're starting a business in this niche, they help you find the specific experts that you need to launch," she explains.

A provider of innovative medical imaging solutions for multi-site clinical trials and telemedicine, Keosys came to the United States in 2014 as a participant in the Science Center's Digital Health Accelerator. Within a decade, the company hopes to make Philadelphia its U.S. headquarters. 

The nature of Keosys' products -- already in use at U.S. sites -- made it compelling to have a physical presence in the country. 

"This is not just software," says Flitcraft. "Patient results and analyses are being used from these images. We have to provide the confidence that individual patient data is being used ethically and appropriately."

Once that decision was made, Keosys chose Philadelphia based on the region's sophisticated life sciences sector and the ease of flying back and forth to France. (Someone from senior management typically crosses the Atlantic every six to eight weeks.) 

No doubt GSL's biggest success story to date is Adaptimmune Therapeutics, a British clinical stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the use of T-cell therapy to treat cancer. Adaptimmune came to the Science Center in 2008 to work with the University of Pennsylvania's Carl June, a foremost T-cell researcher. 

In 2011, the company launched its own U.S. operations at the Science Center. As recently as 2013, it employed only five people in University City. Then in 2015, a wildly successful IPO generated net proceeds of more than $176 million. Today, Adaptimmune employs 70 as it cools its heels in a downtown skyscraper while a new headquarters designed by Digsau, a Philadelphia architectural firm, is under construction at the Navy Yard in South Philly. The building is expected to be completed late this year, and Adaptimmune plans to create another 110 jobs.

According to Gwendolyn Binder-Scholl, Adaptimmune's executive vice president and head of translational sciences, the company's participation in GSL was pivotal for its rapid expansion. 

"What the Science Center allowed us to do was to stay close to Penn and focus on science and clinical trials," she says. "It allowed us to incubate until we were really ready."

Like Keosys and Adaptimmune -- and unlike most companies under incubation at the Science Center -- most GSL companies are not startups but rather new subsidiaries of established overseas firms. This offers the advantage of a reliable revenue stream. Still, "it's very analogous to entrepreneurship," says Greenspan. "It requires building a structure, establishing a team, operating an office, building a market."

Right now, including Keosys, there are five GSL companies in residence at the Science Center:

ANGLE North America is a U.K.-based medical technology company developing a tool for rapidly separating cells in blood. The device will allow rare cells, such as cancer cells, to be identified in standard clinical settings, enabling rapid and early diagnosis of many types of cancer.

Bioscript Science, also U.K.-based, delivers high quality medical communications for doctors, healthcare providers and patients.‎ The company aims to bring expertise, clarity and value to the full range of medical publications, meetings, electronic media and educational events.

Optiflame Solutions is a Russian enterprise that is developing novel turbines for urban wind power generation. Their technology is eco-friendly and can be installed on any roof to generate power safely, effectively and silently.

Viventia Bio, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is developing next-generation oncology therapeutics. Their proprietary technology is designed to overcome the efficacy and safety challenges of existing antibody-drug conjugates.

GSL also operates a virtual program that allows overseas firms to establish a mailing address at the Science Center. "It's a stepping stone before they put their feet on the ground," explains Greenspan, "a preliminary home base if they are making preparations to establish here."

And beyond GSL, the Science Center's international reach continues to grow. It maintains partnerships with sister organizations in Turkey, Switzerland and Belgium; is home to a cross-border market immersion program in partnership with the Canadian Consulate General; and its Port incubator is designated as an International Business Innovation Association Soft Landings International Incubator, one of only 27 such designees around the world. 

Meanwhile at Adaptimmune, as its 47,400-square foot, LEED-certified building rises a few miles away, Binder-Scholl muses on her early days at the Science Center. 

"Without [the Center], it would have been a lot more difficult," she insists.

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.
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