Bristol-Myers prints a pair of 'Golden Tickets' for Cambridge biotech startups

Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) is lending its weight to a Cambridge, MA, biotech accelerator, promising to sponsor some fledging drug developers as it prepares to take up residence in an industry hotbed.

The pharma giant has signed on as a platinum sponsor for LabCentral, a startup launchpad in Cambridge's Kendall Square. Under the agreement, Bristol-Myers has the right to nominate two biotech startups each year for a Golden Ticket, which grants companies a year-long spot in LabCentral's R&D hub.

For Bristol-Myers, the alliance with LabCentral comes as the drugmaker plots a 431,500-square-foot R&D complex in Kendall Square, working with Alexandria Real Estate ($ARE) on a hub slated to open in late 2017. Bristol-Myers plans to house about 300 researchers at the new facility, with a particular focus on genetically defined diseases, molecular discovery technologies and discovery platform chemistry.

Bristol-Myers' bet on Kendall Square follows a growing trend among major drug developers looking to cut in on Cambridge's famed ecosystem for biotech innovation. Over the past few years, Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer ($PFE), Sanofi ($SNY) and many more have piled into the area along the Charles River, with Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Baxalta ($BXLT) among the players blueprinting outposts in the neighborhood.

LabCentral got off the ground in 2013 with a $5 million grant from the public-private Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, providing space for biotech entrepreneurs to hone their ideas in search of funding. Roche ($RHHBY) joined the fold in 2014 as a gold sponsor, providing cash and technology to support the effort. Amgen ($AMGN) came aboard months later to get the Golden Ticket program started, eventually nominating Novopyxis and Cocoon Biotech for spots at LabCentral.

Among LabCentral's alumni network are Yumanity Therapeutics, Unum Therapeutics, Navitor Pharmaceuticals and NantKwest ($NK).

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