Entrepreneurship, community and serious tax incentives combine to make Puerto Rico an ideal life science hub

June 2, 2016 Erin Righetti

ignacio.pino

If you want a lesson in the opportunities available in Puerto Rico, talk to Ignacio Pino. Pino’s company, CDI Laboratories, Inc., a CRO located in Guanajibo Research and Innovation Park in Puerto Rico, is focused on advanced proteomics. “We are a hybrid CRO as we also call ourselves content developers in relation to developing tools that accelerate human protein research, specifically high-content protein microarrays, and highly specific monoclonal antibodies. Protein research is important to understand diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders.” CDI creates unique tools and services to accelerate research in these areas, and also commercializes these tools for those who adopt the technology to use them internally, in their labs.

 

WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

Pino created CDI in 2008. “I was a veterinarian and had been practicing for ten years,” said Pino. “As a local Puerto Rican, I became interested in taking advantage of my unique location in the middle of what we called back then ‘Bio Island.’

 

“Suddenly, companies started moving here for talent,” said Pino. “I had heard about a business plan competition run by Grupo Guayacan. I thought biotech had a good chance on the island, so I put a business plan together and won. I was interested in vaccines and their vast potential to do so much good with them, and I wanted to be part of that ecosystem of drug development.

 

“We worked with the [Puerto Rico Science and Technology] Trust to get seed funding,“ said  Pino. “It was the most important proposal of my life. We got funded, and then secured incubator space where we used our funding to advance uses for large content human protein microarrays being developed being developed at Johns Hopkins University. We built up our business with the local talent and founders, and the company grew from three people to 27 today.” CDI collaborates extensively with and maintains a hub at Johns Hopkins, from whom they have acquired additional technology. “In a nutshell, that is how we created the company,” said Pino. “It didn’t hurt that when I invited my friends from Johns Hopkins to site visits in Puerto Rico, I was inviting them to a beautiful beach.”

 

ACCESS TO TALENT

Puerto Rico has a great university system and there is a lot of life science talent.

 

One important resource linking academia to research in Puerto Rico is Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR). CienciaPR is a nonprofit organization composed of scientists, professionals, students and citizens committed to the advancement of science in Puerto Rico and with promoting science communication, science education, and scientific careers. It began as an initiative of the Council for the Advancement in Puerto Rico for Innovation and Scientific Research (CAPRI), a nonprofit organization interested in promoting research and development of the Puerto Rican archipelago. “It started as a web page, a newsletter,” said Pino. “The idea was to keep all the scientists on the island, and to have someplace where we could talk and keep in touch.”

 

SOLID FOOTING

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and government support creates an ideal location for global companies. From an investor perspective, in an acquisition exit, shareholders of a company with a Law 73 decree don’t have to pay taxes in Puerto Rico as it is a tax-free conversion. Puerto Rico offers a low tax base for Law 73 participating companies. Despite the financial troubles of the Puerto Rican government, the life sciences sector is stable. “There are two economies working simultaneously and independently of each other,” said Pino.

 

“I invite companies to experience Puerto Rico for themselves by attending Biolatam® in November,” said Pino. “You will significantly speed access to the network that you need, not only in terms of the companies here, but all the players I have mentioned that make Puerto Rico an attractive scenario. You can make the same number of connections it took me years to develop in just a couple days. You have infrastructure, support, and every supplier is here.  You won’t lack anything.”

 

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