By: Brian Darmody, CEO, Association of University Research Parks (AURP)

Across the country and around the world, cities, research universities, government labs and other actors are reformulating the way anchor institutions can help lead technology-based economic development as the geography of innovation shifts. 

Julie Wagner, Bruce Katz, Tom Osha and others have formed the Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID), which is doing research and policy implementation to advance Innovation Districts around the world. These districts, defined by GIID are “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. Compact, transit-accessible, and technically-wired, innovation districts foster open collaboration, grow talent, and offer mixed-used housing, office, and retail.”

The changing role and responsibility for anchor institutions in urban settings is especially true in the bio health sector. Historically, university health centers were disconnected from communities where they resided, and too often seen as--except for patients--impenetrable citadels. That model is changing as cities and health science centers rethink how they can leverage medical research and technology assets to create more inclusive and robust innovation clusters.

Billions of dollars of new bio health facility construction are taking place in cities across the globe. Universities and medical centers are designing collaboration spaces in these new facilities for both spin out companies and bio corporate partnering.  For example, the University of California, Davis is planning a 2 million square foot health innovation center adjacent to the UC Davis Health Science Center in downtown Sacramento.  

Global biotechnology firm, Astra Zeneca , in Maryland for past 4 years has hosted the Bio Health Capital Region Forum at its Gaithersburg headquarters to bring together on a regional basis private sector companies, universities, medical centers, federal labs and entrepreneurs to support public private bio health partnerships.

Other pharmaceutical and IT companies are being to notice and take action to support growth of bio health districts.

 A New York Times article on the growth of Pfizer, Novartis, and other major pharmaceutical companies in Kendal Square in Cambridge, one of the world’s leading bio health innovation districts, notes that:

Pharmaceutical companies traditionally preferred suburban enclaves where they could protect their intellectual property in more secluded setting and meet their employees’ needs. But in recent years, as the costs of drug development have soared and R&D pipelines slowed, pharmaceutical companies have looked elsewhere for innovation. Much of that novelty is now coming from biotechnology firms and major research universities like MIT and Harvard, just two subway stops away.

But not all cities and regions have the amazing set of bio assets and historical record of MIT, Boston and Kendall Square.

For the “Rise of the Rest,’ the AURP Bio Health Caucus will be a forum for cities and universities planning, building or expanding their place-based biotech and health tech clusters. The Caucus will share best practices in financing and managing bio health clusters and forming public-private partnerships and related topics.

What is the role of philanthropy in building new innovation facilities and companies? What cities in the US and elsewhere have leading bio health clusters? What are innovative medical companies, like Johnson & Johnson, doing to leverage innovation? How does the new Opportunity Zone (OZ) legislation that promises $100B in new real estate and tech business equity investment affect bio health clusters? What’s the importance of intellectual property (IP) protection to growing bio health companies? How do I attract bio-computational assets to my district?

These and other topics will be explored at the AURP Bio Health Caucus meeting taking place June 2-3 at University City Science Center in Philadelphia before the large BIO meeting taking place that week. Sign up for this separately ticketed event at


The Bio Health Caucus will have additional meetings, including at the AURP International Conference at Ga. Tech in Atlanta on November 4, 2019. See   .

We hope to see you in Philadelphia!


Founded in 1986, AURP is a non-profit organization representing university, federal and corporate research parks, science parks and innovation districts in the U.S., Canada and 13 countries. See,