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M3 Biotechnology CEO Discusses Seattle's Unique Life Science Ecosystem

Seattle has a reputation as one of the nation's top 10 life science hubs, making it a prime spot for startups that spin out of university research or larger companies.

M3 Biotechnology CEO Leen Kawas
M3 Biotechnology CEO Leen Kawas

M3 Biotechnology, a startup that recently launched clinical trials for its Alzheimer's disease therapy, will soon outgrow the incubator space it occupies on the University of Washington campus. Company leaders said they want to maintain the relationships and resources they have built in Seattle.

"There is a uniqueness to Seattle with the high growth of the tech industry and the convergence of tech, biotech, entrepreneurs and investors that positions Seattle to become a prime location for life science companies," M3 Biotechnology CEO Leen Kawas said. "It is important to cultivate this ecosystem to build up the life sciences industry locally because it is the industry of the future."

Much of the Seattle area's life science activity comes from small to midsize companies whose growth is driven by innovation, JLL reports. The region is one of the top in the nation for venture capital and National Institutes of Health funding and for patents issued, the report notes. The life science industry makes up more than $12.5B of the state's gross domestic product.

M3 operates in the CoMotion incubator at UW. Kawas said the incubator has been a great resource for the growing biotech company, allowing M3 to keep overhead costs low so it could focus its resources on strengthening the company and investing in its research. CoMotion also provides access to resources and networking in the incubator and at the university.

"Relationships and collaboration opportunities have been key to our growth as a company," she said.

M3 has been named one of Seattle's 10 hottest startups. Startups usually reach a point when they have to leave their incubator space, and Kawas expects M3 will hit that point in 2019.

Other states have reached out to the company with compelling packages to relocate, but the firm is committed to Seattle, where it has built a network of investors and connections with local research institutions and high-tech talent in the area, she said.

Kawas took the helm of M3 in 2013, pivoting from an intended academic research career to a position that she felt could further Alzheimer's research. Startups bring a level of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and quicker reaction times than pharmaceutical and biotech giants, she said.

The start of M3's Phase 1 human trials in October marks a milestone for the company, she said.

"It puts us a step closer to making a difference for the millions suffering from this devastating disease," she said. "Our job is not done; it's a step in the right direction with many more to follow."

To hear more from Kawas and about the life science industry in Seattle, join us at Bisnow's Seattle Life Sciences Summit on Nov. 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel.