Locations For The Biotech Industry: Microscopic Miracles

Successful introduction of mRNA vaccines has created a platform for the rapid development of new treatments.


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Successful introduction of mRNA vaccines has created a platform for the rapid development of new treatments.
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Locations For The Biotech Industry: Microscopic Miracles

The nanotechnology and gene-splicing that created the coronavirus vaccines in record time have established a platform for the creation of other rapid-response treatments.

Locations For The Biotech Industry: Microscopic Miracles

By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2021 Issue

The onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic challenged the world’s leading pharmaceutical giants to produce a vaccine against a novel pathogen within a year of its discovery, which is more than five times faster than it’s ever been done before.

The first two vaccines approved for use in the U.S.—produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—were created using “messenger” RNA (mRNA), nucleic acid containing genetically engineered nanoparticles of the virus that “instruct” human cells to manufacture antibodies that fight off COVID-19.

The engineering of these lipid nanoparticles and the successful introduction of the first mRNA vaccines have created a platform for the rapid development of new treatments that are expected to revolutionize the development of drugs. Think of the lipid nanoparticles as the “cargo bay” for molecular-level treatments that will be developed using messenger RNA.

This new biotechnology is expected to spawn the creation of a new wave of drugs that in coming decades have the potential to wipe out just about every scourge afflicting the human race. As one leading biotechnologist described it, the methodology used to create the coronavirus vaccines will be the “chassis” in an assembly line that can be retooled to produce an infinite number of new wonder drugs configured to eradicate plagues and stop the next pandemic before it starts.

NORTH CAROLINA: $3 BILLION GROWTH SURGE IN LIFE SCIENCES

In a flurry of growth in North Carolina, life sciences companies from around the nation and world announced expansions in 2020 that will bring nearly $3 billion in new investment and over 4,800 new jobs to the state.

biotech industry
Merck’s Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham is building a new facility to increase production of a bladder cancer drug. (Courtesy of North Carolina Biotechnology Center)

This escalating pace of growth comes to a state that is already an industry leader—775 life sciences companies employing more than 67,000 highly skilled people operate in North Carolina.

At the end of 2020, life sciences production and manufacturing companies employed more than 30,000 North Carolinians, who make products including vaccines, cell- and gene-based therapies, small-molecule pharmaceuticals, monoclonal antibodies and industrial enzymes. About 37,000 additional life sciences workers statewide focus on research and development or contract research and testing.

In 2020, at least 16 companies announced expansions that will create new bioscience jobs in communities including Research Triangle Park (RTP), Clayton, Durham, Greenville, Maxton, Morrisville and Sanford.

The strong momentum continued into 2021, as additional companies announced projects. They included Biogen Inc., which will invest roughly $200 million to build a gene-therapy manufacturing facility at its RTP campus. California gene-therapy innovator Adverum Biotechnologies plans to establish an $83 million manufacturing site in Durham. West Pharmaceutical Services, a manufacturer of drug-packaging and delivery components, will invest $19 million to add production in Kinston.

“Our world-class academic base, our long-term commitment to workforce development, our magnetic business climate are proving to be increasingly attractive to companies choosing to make major investments in relocation and expansion,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president of statewide operations and economic development for the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Christopher Chung is chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), which recruits and supports companies seeking to invest in North Carolina.

“Our biotech and life science project wins in 2020 included high-quality and diverse manufacturers on the cutting edge of innovation,” Chung said. “Last year’s results show we are a state known for forging new technologies and therapies, both in developing and making those products.”

Here are just some the growing life sciences companies choosing North Carolina in 2020:

  • Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company will build its first North Carolina manufacturing facility in RTP, investing $474 million and creating 462 new jobs. Company officials said they chose North Carolina over sites in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, primarily because of the state’s workforce capabilities.
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific, a global life science services company, is adding 500 jobs in Greenville as part of a $500 million expansion of its sterile drug product development and commercial manufacturing of medicines, therapies and vaccines.
  • Connecticut-based ApiJect Systems announced construction of a “gigafactory” in RTP at a potential cost of $785 million with up to 650 employees. ApiJect, which makes an experimental disposable injection device, said the 1-million-square-foot campus could produce 3 billion single-dose prefilled injectors annually.
  • BioAgilytix, which provides contract bioanalytical testing for other companies’ drug candidates, said it would add 878 employees with a $61.5 million investment in its Durham headquarters.
  • Audentes Therapeutics, a San Francisco gene-therapy company purchased in 2020 by Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma, is establishing a $109.4 million, 209-employee gene therapy production facility in Sanford.
  • FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies U.S.A. broke ground on a $54 million expansion of its Morrisville biomanufacturing facilities, as part of a $90 million Fujifilm Corp. investment to meet growing customer demand for biopharmaceuticals.
  • California-based GRAIL plans to invest $103 million and create nearly 400 new jobs in RTP. The company is developing a blood test for early detection of cancer.
  • Grifols, a global biotherapeutics company with more than 2,000 employees in North Carolina, is adding 300 to its Clayton workforce as part of a $351.6 million expansion of its blood plasma operations. The Clayton site is becoming one of the world’s largest manufacturing plants for plasma-derived medicines.
  • Beam Therapeutics, a young Boston-area gene therapy company, announced plans to build an $83 million biomanufacturing facility in Durham.
  • Merck’s Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham intends to hire 100 more employees as it builds a new facility to increase production of a bladder cancer drug.
  • KBI Biopharma, a contract drug development and manufacturing company, announced a new manufacturing facility near RTP that will employ more than 200 people in operations and quality assurance.

In addition to launching expansions, some North Carolina companies are contributing to the fight against COVID-19. Most notably, FUJIFILM Diosynth is manufacturing Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine at its RTP facility. Merck’s Durham facility is gearing up to help competitor Johnson & Johnson produce a COVID-19 vaccine.

North Carolina’s talented workforce drives the success of the state’s life sciences cluster. Each year, for example, North Carolina’s universities award 4,900 life sciences and 4,500 engineering degrees. The NCBioImpact training partnership brings together university and community college educators with industry to produce industry-specific training programs. North Carolina’s community colleges deliver customized worker training programs. North Carolina State University’s Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center provides hands-on training in a simulated cGMP environment.

MICHIGAN: INNOVATION STARTS HERE

Michigan’s expertise in medical device manufacturing was thrust into the spotlight when people all over the world witnessed the historic journey of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine departing the company’s Kalamazoo County facility. By leveraging Michigan’s existing medical device anchor companies, research assets and its top 10 nationally ranked medical device manufacturing workforce of nearly 13,000 people, the state was key to the manufacture and distribution of the fastest-produced vaccine in history.

biotech industry
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined members of the Pfizer team for a tour in early February of its global manufacturing campus in Kalamazoo, where it shipped the first doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in late December. (Photo: Office of Governor Whitmer)

While the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to make headlines, Michigan’s robust biotech and life sciences ecosystem continues to support other businesses in the state, from fortune 500 companies to startups.

Michigan is home to a rich environment for major biotech and life sciences companies, with 383 medical device firms located throughout the state anchored by key industry leaders such as Pfizer and Stryker. As a top 10 medical device company in the U.S., Stryker is planted firmly in Michigan, having doubled down on the state’s medical device ecosystem in 2018 by growing its manufacturing capacity at its campus in Portage. These two companies are part of the reason the Southwest region of Michigan has five times more workers than the U.S. average in the medical device sector.

The state’s life sciences industry has also attracted the attention of global heavyweights, with Perrigo announcing last year that it will locate its North American Corporate Headquarters in Grand Rapids. A leading global provider of self-care products, Perrigo will join a network of other industry leaders in the region’s “Medical Mile,” allowing it to leverage the extensive healthcare expertise and innovation that is taking place in Michigan.

In addition to being a home to top-tier biotech and medical device companies, Michigan has also long been a hub for life science startups. With key support and resources from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), entrepreneurs and startups in Michigan can tap into a comprehensive network of statewide innovation hubs and clusters of business accelerators to access early-stage funding, mentoring, networking and more to help bring their technologies to life.

The state’s ability to facilitate commercialization of competitive edge technologies was demonstrated recently by NxGen MDx, which launched a COVID-19 test in March 2020 in response to the rapid rise in cases throughout the country. The Grand Rapids-based company received early support from the MEDC and today is a leading women’s health company that delivers highly accurate and precise genetic testing. By growing in an ecosystem that allowed it to swiftly adapt its technology, NxGen MDx is helping to meet a major demand nationally for increased diagnostic capabilities.

In addition to startups in the state contributing to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, a West Michigan clinical-stage biotechnology company is discovering groundbreaking therapeutics for Alzheimer’s patients. Founded in 2010, Tetra Therapeutics develops innovative therapeutic products for patients suffering from cognitive impairment and memory loss.

Additionally, Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC) is the number one cluster for undergraduate and advanced degrees in medicine and biological science, and the only cluster of its peers to offer a doctorate in osteopathic (DO) program. As a leader in medicine and biological science, the URC and other university programs supported by the state’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation initiative are essential to assisting startups with developing and testing new medical device technologies that will ultimately grow and diversify Michigan’s economy and its entrepreneurial spirit across the state.

Leading in everything from producing and distributing the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, BNT162b2, against COVID-19 to developing and testing new medical device technologies beyond the pandemic, the Great Lakes state is paving the way for the current and future biotech and life sciences industry.

To learn more about why Michigan’s biotech/life sciences businesses are thriving visit michiganbusiness.org/pure-opportunity.

PASCO COUNTY, FL: ROBUST TALENT PIPELINE

Healthcare and Life Sciences are some of Florida’s fastest growing advanced industries and Pasco County is no exception to this growth. With access to a robust life sciences talent pipeline that sees 20,000 awards achieved every year within the region, announcements of expansions from established health research giants like Moffitt Cancer Research Center and fast-growing start-ups like Bravado Pharmaceuticals gives testimony to the opportunities Pasco County offers companies looking to locate in Tampa Bay’s life sciences corridor.

Moffitt Cancer Center campus
Moffitt Illustrative Plan. The Moffitt Cancer Center campus in Pasco County is estimated to support more than 14,500 jobs in the Tampa Bay region. (Source: Pasco EDC)

As one of the fastest growing areas in the Tampa Bay region, Pasco County features a unique blend of undeveloped, open spaces in close proximity to modern, vibrant communities with ready access to major interstate highways, CSX Rail Line, Tampa International Airport and Port Tampa Bay. Five major regional commuter arteries intersect Pasco County: I-75, FL 589, US 41, US 19 and US 301.

Pasco also has a competitive advantage when it comes to talent. Its A-rated schools include 40 pathways in Career and Technical Education programs through partnerships with local industry. The county offers access to the University of South Florida, which is the 7th largest public university in the U.S. and Florida’s Preeminent State Research University. In addition, Saint Leo University was named No. 1 in the U.S. by Military Times Best Colleges 2020.

Pasco County’s award-winning workforceCONNECTpasco.com platform allows employers to find programs that produce talent that will thrive in their industries. They can explore resources to help their business stand out to top candidates, as well as allow job seekers to discover and explore various career pathways in a diverse economy of fast-growing industries.

Pasco County offers stable, pro-business government leadership in a right-to-work state with local incentives, low operating costs and no personal state income tax.

Moffitt has announced their plans for a 775-acre expansion campus in Pasco County. The expanded clinical and research facilities will accommodate growth in the Tampa Bay region of complementary third-party research, product manufacturing, clinical providers and conferencing facilities. The campus will be a magnet for biotech and life sciences enterprises and innovation and will bring together new partners and collaborators. The entire campus is estimated to support more than 14,500 additional jobs in the area.

“There is no question that Moffitt is a leader in research and delivery of life saving cancer care. This campus will serve as catalyst for the Life Sciences industry for not only the region, but the State of Florida,” said Bill Cronin, President/CEO, Pasco EDC. “The location on the Suncoast Parkway will serve as an anchor to the already robust corridor of Life Sciences cluster which has been rapidly developing over the last few years.”

The multi-year, multi-phase project will include over 1.4 million square feet of research lab/office, light industrial/ manufacturing, general office and clinical building space within the 775-acre site near the future intersection of Suncoast Parkway and the Ridge Road Extension which is currently under construction.

“We are truly thankful for the funding support from the Pasco County commissioners,” said Patrick Hwu, MD, President and CEO, Moffitt Cancer Center. “Moffitt’s world-class expansion campus in Pasco County will allow us to treat more patients, conduct more groundbreaking research and develop innovative partnerships, all in support of our mission to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer. We look forward to growing this partnership with Pasco County for years to come.”

In the project’s first phase, Moffitt will construct a minimum of 128,000 square feet for corporate business park uses. Pasco County Board of Commissioners has agreed to provide approximately $25 million in financial assistance to support the construction of infrastructure serving the first phase of development on the site, which is expected to be completed in five years.

Last February, TouchPoint Medical opened their Global Headquarters in Pasco County. They relocated operations from multiple states to Pasco County after investing over $23 million in a 118,000-square-foot facility right off the Suncoast Parkway (known as the Life Sciences Corridor).

“After completing a thorough evaluation of multiple options on where to locate the Global Headquarters and Americas Operations Facility for TouchPoint Medical, we selected Pasco County,” stated Brian McNeill, President and CEO of TouchPoint, Inc., the parent company of TouchPoint Medical.

“TouchPoint Medical is a growth platform for our company and we needed a location that would enable us to attract and retain a talented and motivated workforce with ample expansion capability. Pasco County and the greater Tampa area was a perfect fit.”

Bravado Pharmaceuticals LLC Owner and CEO Brian McMillan has over 30 years of analytical, formulation and process development experience. After spending his career working at numerous nationally acclaimed companies, McMillan decided to open his own pharmaceutical company in Pasco County. The company has invested over $3 million in the purchase and buildout of a 7,500-square-foot facility and manufacturing equipment. Within three months of opening his company last year, McMillan was invited to be showcased on Worldwide Business with kathy ireland®.

“Not only will Bravado be developing and manufacturing pharmaceuticals, they will be using this facility as a research center and have synergies with the University of South Florida and University of Florida,” said Cronin.

HUDSONALPHA TAKES GENOMICS TO A NEW LEVEL

In Alabama, researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology used a new, cutting-edge genomic sequencing technology to help physicians make diagnoses for two pediatric patients who had been on long diagnostic journeys.

HudsonAlpha
Researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology used a new, cutting-edge genomic sequencing technology to help physicians make diagnoses for two pediatric patients who had been on long diagnostic journeys. (Source: HudsonAlpha)

Neurodevelopmental diseases, many of which are genetic in nature, affect one to three percent of children and cause a range of physical and intellectual disabilities. Identifying the genetic variants, or changes in DNA, that lead to these diseases can provide a precise diagnosis, guide treatment approaches and give families the answer to their years-long medical mystery.

Despite advances in genome sequencing technology used in the diagnosis of many genetic disorders, specific diagnoses for children with neurodevelopmental diseases remain elusive in many cases. This is likely because many disease-causing genetic variants are difficult or impossible to detect through typical genomic sequencing approaches.

Traditionally, genome sequencing is performed by generating millions of “short” sequences, called reads, which are generally around 150 base pairs long. These short-reads are pieced back together like a puzzle using a human reference genome as a template. The reference genome is a representative example of a set of chromosomes in a human, produced from the DNA of 13 anonymous volunteers. Genetic variants are detected by comparing the puzzle pieces to the reference genome to look for variations in the sequences.

This is not always an easy task since in some regions of DNA there are multiple variant types that make matching the short-reads to the reference genome often impossible.

One potential approach to overcoming the limitations of short-read technology is to use a sequencing platform that produces longer reads. Recent advances in long-read sequencing now allow for the production of reads that are up to 1,000 times longer than those from short-read sequencing. Having fewer, bigger puzzle pieces leads to fewer gaps in the whole sequence once assembled. More complete coverage of the DNA sequence allows researchers and clinicians to more accurately detect variants, including those that are potentially disease-causing.

In a recent study published in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances, HudsonAlpha Faculty Investigator Greg Cooper, PhD, and his lab describe how long-read sequencing helped them identify pathogenic variants responsible for previously undiagnosable, rare neurodevelopmental disorders in two young patients. The research team, led by senior scientist and first author Susan Hiatt, PhD, used Pacific Biosciences Circular Consensus Sequencing, or “HiFi”, technology on the latest platform the PacBio Sequel 2 during the study. During HiFi sequencing, fragments of DNA are circularized and then sequenced over and over. This leads to sequence reads that are both long—clocking in at tens of thousands of bases—and accurate.

Using the HiFi technology, the team analyzed six family trios (mom, dad and child) that each had a child suspected of having a genetic neurodevelopmental disorder. Although the families had previously had their genomes sequenced with short-read technology, no disease-causing genetic variant had been identified.

The researchers found many genetic variants in each family that had previously been missed by short-read sequencing. Among these newly detected variants, the team identified likely pathogenic variation in two of the six children, meaning the DNA variant they identified is likely the cause of the child’s disease.

In one case, the team identified a likely pathogenic DNA insertion of nearly 7,000 bases in a gene called CDKL5. “Because variation in CDKL5 has been associated with early infantile epileptic encephalopathy 2, a well-characterized neurodevelopmental condition that fits well with this patient’s presentation, we dove deeper into this variant,” said Hiatt. “We performed an experiment to determine the effect of this large insertion in the CDKL5 gene, and confirmed that the gene loses its function with this insertion.”

By providing clinicians with more accurate long-read sequencing data combined with supporting data from basic biology experiments, researchers can provide a picture of a possible disease diagnosis that they did not previously have with short-read sequencing alone. Although the study looked at only six patients, it is very promising that two of the six patients now have potential answers for their undiagnosed neurodevelopmental diseases.

“The ability to find so many variants that were previously missed is exciting, and holds great promise for diagnostic testing in the future,” says Cooper. “Long-read genome sequencing will become a powerful tool for research and clinical testing over the next few years.”

HudsonAlpha was founded as a nonprofit to combine the power of academic research with the resources of the commercial sector. Since its founding more than a decade ago, the mission of the Institute has been to bring discoveries to market more quickly, and HudsonAlpha has already completed a number of successful tech transfers in pursuit of that goal.

More than 40 bioscience companies have chosen to establish a presence on the HudsonAlpha campus, taking advantage of proximity to this cutting edge research and the state’s growing biotech workforce. To date at least 10 companies at HudsonAlpha are working on COVID-19 related projects, including some companies working for others during the pandemic.

The Institute’s 152-acre biotech campus, located in an Opportunity Zone, offers room to grow and access to quality resources, including top talent and a ready workforce, continuous knowledge sharing and funding sources for intellectual property—all in a collaborative community of bioscience enterprises.

CLINTON, IA: PRIME BIOTECH LOCATION

Surrounded by corn and soybeans, Clinton, Iowa is a prime location for biotech companies. Each of these commodities has spawned innovation and industries outside of their agricultural roots. For example, in November 2020, Japan’s Spiber Inc. chose Clinton for its first U.S. production facility through a partnership with ADM. The biotech startup produces bio-based, biodegradable protein polymers for use in apparel, auto parts and other products.

Archer Daniels Midland
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Corn Wet Mill facility in Clinton, IA. (Photo: Clinton Regional Development Corporation)

“Iowa has a deep understanding of the positive impact potential of projects like ours and has created an environment that is conducive to success,” said Daniel Meyer, president of Spiber America LLC. “This award will enable Spiber to accelerate its investment in the equipment and infrastructure used to convert corn-based dextrose into alternative proteins for use as next-generation biomaterials across many industries. We are thrilled to bring our production to Clinton, Iowa.”

In Clinton, Spiber America LLC, a subsidiary of Spiber Inc., will combine its technology with ADM’s infrastructure and expertise. The two companies have partnered to modify and expand equipment at ADM’s biorefinery in Clinton. An economic development incentive package approved by the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board helped ensure that the Clinton location would become the first U.S. facility to produce Spiber’s unique protein polymers. The incentive package included direct assistance in the amount of $1 million through the state’s High Quality Jobs (HQJ) Program, and the City of Clinton will provide a 20 percent match. This project represents a $101.4 million capital investment.

“We’re proud of our unmatched fermentation technology, and we’re excited to partner with Spiber to bring those capabilities together with our engineering expertise and long value chain to create plant-based polymers that will go into everything from clothes to car seats,” said Ian Pinner, ADM’s chief strategy and innovation officer and president of the company’s Health & Wellness division. “We’re equally excited to bring this job-creating project to the Clinton region, a community that is home to nearly 900 ADM colleagues.”

In addition to Spiber, the Clinton Regional Development Corporation (CRDC) helped biofuel company Hero BX expand its Clinton footprint in 2020. Hero BX is a national, privately-held company headquartered in Erie, PA. It bought an existing biofuel facility in Clinton in 2018, and has since invested some $10 million into the Clinton facility, purchased an additional 3.3 acres of land for more tanks and hired nearly 30 local, full-time workers.

Chris Peterson, President of Hero BX, said “we have been very happy with how our company has been welcomed into the Clinton community by CDRC and many other organizations and business leaders. When CRDC presented us with the opportunity to acquire more property in the Rail Park adjacent to our existing facility, we jumped right on it. Although our project has been slowed by an uncontrollable downturn in the biodiesel business and more recently by the COVID pandemic, we are looking forward to finally getting the newly retrofitted plant into production in the coming weeks.”

In order to retain and attract new businesses, the CRDC markets three unique talent attraction programs: 1) the “Manufacturing Awareness” workforce development program that prepares displaced workers and recent graduates for the wide range of jobs in the manufacturing sector; 2) the Clinton County Community Student Loan Assistance Program, which helps new residents pay off their student loan debt faster; and 3) Home Base Iowa, which gives military veterans up to $6,500 towards the purchase of a home in Clinton County when they move here to work.

The Greater Clinton Region is just two hours west of Chicagoland and offers access to three Class I railroads, wet and dry barge services on the Mississippi River and multiple interstate over-the-road options. Two business parks currently have land available for new projects; the Lincolnway Industrial Rail & Air Park is an Iowa Certified Site with UP rail service and the Lyons Business & Technology Park is zoned for light industrial/commercial businesses.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY: THRIVING BIOSCIENCE HUB

Westchester County, just north of Manhattan, is home to the largest biosciences cluster in New York State, boasting 8,000 jobs and 20 percent of the State’s total biosciences employment. The cluster comprises academic institutes doing basic research, R&D and clinical stage startups, large manufacturers and supply chain participants, and related industry experts providing specialized consulting, financing, marketing and communications and other support services.

biotech industry
Researchers at [email protected], the mid-Hudson Valley’s only fully-equipped biotechnology incubator on a health sciences college campus. (Photo: New York Medical College)

“Over the last few years, we have seen the bioscience industry grow exponentially in Westchester County, from those in the incubation stage that participate in our programs to the industry leaders expanding their reach,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “We look forward to continuing to support this sector as it brings jobs and innovation to our county, strengthening the economy and our business community.”

Biosciences has long been a priority for the Westchester County Office of Economic Development, and its team is investing in its growth and continued success in 2021.

The Westchester County Office of Economic Development is proud to support biotech startups, stage two companies and global leaders in the broad life sciences industry. Regeneron, Acorda Therapeutics and the Hudson Valley’s only fully-equipped biotechnology incubator, [email protected], all call Westchester home.

Recently, more businesses have been relocating to Westchester from the city. Oligomerix, Inc. relocated its headquarters from Manhattan to the Westchester Park Center in White Plains. In addition, Clarapath leased 7,000 square feet at 12 Skyline Drive after coming up from the Bronx. Existing Westchester businesses are also expanding their footprint: PTI recently signed a lease for 13,650 square feet of expansion space, now occupying about 28,000 square feet at 8 Skyline Drive, nearly four times the size of its original offices in Tuckahoe.

With New York ranking second in the nation for both life sciences jobs and higher education degrees in biosciences, Westchester’s vibrant life sciences industry benefits from access to top notch talent and a wide range of opportunities for this talent pool to apply its skills—thanks, in part, to the county’s 28 higher education institutions and award-winning public schools.

But education is only the tip of the iceberg. The perks of working and living in Westchester are endless: minutes away from New York City via car or train; more affordable commercial real estate options; 18,000 acres of parkland; vibrant downtowns and quiet suburbs; and a strong quality of life.

“The reality of it is, you need a ‘live, work, play’ scenario for these clusters to be successful,” says Patricia Ardigo, of PA Life Science Consulting. “When developing a true research park, you need to have that quality of life. These employees want to be able to get out of the lab and get outside when they can. They want a walking trail and to be able to synergistically talk and work together with people from other businesses in the park. That’s how it develops itself.”

The county’s largest bioscience cluster centers around Westchester Medical Center and New York Medical College in Valhalla. With Regeneron, the [email protected] incubator (with over 7,000 square feet of affordable laboratory space), and the North 60, a $1.2 billion, 3 million-square-foot bioscience, technology and lifestyle campus in the Town of Mount Pleasant in development, it has become a hub of bioscience in the county.

According to Larry Gottlieb, managing director, life sciences and health technologies for RMC Bio1-Robert Martin Company, what Westchester can offer is much more than just square footage.

“In 2021, it’s not solely about lab space, but rather the flexibility and connectivity of the workspaces,” he says.

“It’s about finding places where we can cluster companies together and plug them into surrounding academia, healthcare, financial capital and quality of life resources within a zone of innovation. At Robert Martin Company, we are successfully repositioning some of our portfolio by tapping into the growing innovation cluster anchored (in part) by New York Medical College and Regeneron.”

The target for RMC Bio1 is for companies to fill approximately 20,000 square feet of lab space and 20,000 square feet of office space.

Gottlieb continues, “We have the space to accommodate graduating companies. Our hope is by investing and repositioning part of our portfolio, we can take those companies from the graduation phase to the next several phases of their development…to help the next Regeneron or Acorda Therapeutics reach that larger scale.”

BioMed Realty’s Ardsley Park Campus on Saw Mill River Road, home to Acorda Therapeutics, comprises approximately 260,000 square feet of laboratory and office space, with additional density for future development potential. Built lab and office space is currently available, as well as shell space.

The Westchester County Office of Economic Development recently launched a Biosciences Industry Desk program to provide a one-stop interface that helps businesses in the existing ecosystem and promote the County as an optimal location to do business for others in this sector.

The Industry Desk is supported by a dedicated Task Force comprised of local biosciences professionals and other stakeholders that bring experience and expertise, and will provide insight into workforce needs, real estate issues, financing and more.

The Westchester County Biosciences Accelerator continues to provide entrepreneurship education and regional networking to seed-stage ventures to build their teams and secure funds. Twelve new startups were selected for the second cohort and began their participation in the program in January 2021. And, the next cohort of Element 46, the county’s incubator network, will prioritize applications from the biosciences industry. [This section was written by Deborah Novick.]

MARLBOROUGH, MA: REGIONAL HUB

The City of Marlborough—one of Massachusetts’ fastest growing communities—continues to expand its life sciences and biotech cluster. Since 2013, when the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) upgraded Marlborough to a Platinum BioReady Community and named it “a key biotechnology hub in the Commonwealth,” the city’s economic development has consistently grown as a well-known Life Science and Biotechnology hub in the region.

MEDC
MEDC executive director, Meredith Harris, and City of Marlborough Mayor, Arthur Vigeant, attend the ribbon cutting of StageBio.4 (Photo: Marlborough EDC)

Located at the crossroads of New England, with direct access to a number of major interstate highways and a highly educated talent pool, Marlborough is a premier business location and a key regional life sciences and biotech hub. The city is a Platinum BioReady community and is home to about 40 life sciences and biotech companies, including the headquarters to some of the state’s largest industry giants—GE Healthcare, Cytiva, Quest Diagnostics, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Boston Scientific and Hologic. This puts the city among the most favorable biotech destinations in the state—just 7 percent of Massachusetts communities have achieved “Platinum” status.

Life science companies are choosing Marlborough due to its ideal location near major teaching hospitals and R&D facilities, access to a highly educated and skilled talent pool and availability of quality and affordable Class “A” office and lab space. Add the city’s willingness to offer tax incentives through the Massachusetts tax increment financing (TIF) program, the city council’s speedy permitting structure and it makes a perfect winning combination for all.

Through TIFs, municipalities in the state can temporarily reduce business property taxes for a specified period of time (between 5-20 years) by calculating a company’s tax bill only on the “base value” of a property, and exempting up to 100 percent of any added value the property gains through the company’s operations, with a stipulation to create jobs and to meet those job numbers over the term of the agreement. TIFs are attractive to life science and biotech businesses because most need to make significant capital expenditures to meet complex industry requirements or make facility additions and upgrades. Life science and biotech businesses with an active TIF agreement with the city include Hologic, Boston Scientific, Quest Diagnostics, Cytiva and Candela.

City of Marlborough, MA Mayor, Arthur Vigeant along with the executive director of Marlborough Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Meredith Harris, are well known in the Commonwealth for working with companies that are interested in moving to or expanding their operations in the city. MEDC has been executing on the city’s economic development plan since 2012 and as a result, business attraction and retention is a priority in Marlborough, and the city is well known for its business-friendly attitude.

New life science and biotech companies opened in 2020, or committed to move into the city in the new year. Sartorius, a trusted supplier for the biopharmaceutical industry and laboratories, announced that the company will be expanding its presence in Massachusetts by opening a new, 40,000-square-foot facility in Marlborough, creating 100 new jobs at 150 Locke Drive. This new Marlborough site will be their “North American Center of Excellence”, providing support to their partners in the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines. Additional new or expanding companies to the city include StageBio, Scitara, Resilience and Repligen, to name just a few.

Marlborough also saw two of its larger life science companies starting the year strong. Hologic was named company of the year for 2020 by Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry, and announced a new partnership with Google Cloud to help doctors screen for cervical cancer. They also acquired Somatex Medical Technologies to help expand breast health solutions. Boston Scientific received FDA approval for their Vercise Genus System and announced an agreement to acquire Preventic Solutions, a mobile cardiac health solutions and services specialist. Additionally, one of the newer companies in Marlborough, Scitara Corporation, announced that they raised $5M to accelerate digital transformation of scientific labs.

The city’s established ecosystem, central location and business friendly community has clearly contributed to the city’s success of drawing in new companies and the retention and expansion of existing companies. Despite the challenges that 2020 brought with the pandemic, the city of Marlborough continued to see growth among businesses in this innovative industry.

If your business is looking to expand or relocate—Marlborough, MA is open for business and MEDC makes it easy. The economic development office offers financial incentives, helps with expedited permitting and provides access to stakeholders.

LIFE SCIENCES, BIOPHARMA FIRMS FLOCKING TO SOUTHERN INDIANA

Global leaders in life sciences, pharmaceuticals and healthcare are increasingly looking to Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center to support growing operations and their needs to quickly and efficiently reach customers nationwide.

Over the past few years, there has been rising interest among firms locating or expanding manufacturing, processing, distribution and support facilities at River Ridge. To date, nearly a half dozen healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical companies have opted to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in their operations—largely as a result of the central location, logistical advantages, strong business climate and the skilled and ready workforce available at River Ridge. And more are on their way.

River Ridge Commerce Center
River Ridge Commerce Center, pictured above, has more than 70 percent of its 6,000 acres still available to develop.

“It’s been a very telling trend,” said Jerry Acy, executive director of the River Ridge Development Authority.

“The investments we’ve made to ready development sites, build roads, create sustainable water infrastructure and add important amenities for businesses have paid off tremendously. Our location and the ease of doing business here are very appealing to many types of companies—especially firms like healthcare and pharmacy-services providers, and life sciences companies.”

The River Ridge Commerce Center is a 6,000-acre business and office park established in 1998 to replace lost economic activity from the closure of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. Since that time, the River Ridge Development Authority has invested more than $120 million to redevelop about 35 percent of the Center. The investments in modern roads, utilities and other infrastructure have spurred private development activity and created thousands of jobs in Southern Indiana.

The River Ridge Commerce Center, which sits at the crossroads of four major interstates (I-64, I-65, I-71 and I-265), has become one of the largest magnets for economic growth and job creation in Southern Indiana and the Greater Louisville (Ky.) metro area. Its central location allows firms to reach more than two-thirds of the U.S. population within a day’s drive. The Center is also conveniently located near UPS’s Worldport hub, the center point of the company’s air network, providing next-day air service to customers worldwide.

River Ridge currently serves as home to more than 60 companies with over 10,500 on-site workers. The Commerce Center estimated that it produced a total of $2.5 billion in economic output in 2019 and supported more than 16,900 regional jobs. The investments and growth at River Ridge recently earned the RRDA the International Economic Development Council’s Gold Award for Real Estate Redevelopment and Reuse.

River Ridge has for more than a decade attracted many local, national and international employers from major industries including automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, and logistics. The rapidly growing pharmaceutical, life-sciences and healthcare cluster is a more recent trend. Currently, two companies in this space are constructing new facilities and a third recently opened one of the largest operations at River Ridge.

PharmaCord, a firm that connects pharmaceutical companies with manufacturers, doctors and payers, announced a $56 million expansion in June that will result in 850 new jobs at River Ridge. PharmaCord is constructing a new headquarters that will employ customer service representatives, benefits specialists, case managers and specialty nurses.

The company credits River Ridge’s leadership and the state’s attractive business climate as reasons to locate in Southern Indiana.

“It was important to us to find an expansion site that would not only afford us the space to grow and fulfill our potential as a company but also to expand our presence in the Louisville metro area,” said Nitin Sahney, founder and CEO of PharmaCord. “I believe this new location will give us the space and ability to support future pharmaceutical client programs while creating more jobs in healthcare for the Metro area. We are very excited about this decision and its implications for the continued growth of PharmaCord.”

Meanwhile, HempRise is investing more than $70 million to construct a purpose-built industrial hemp processing and innovation facility, including specialized laboratories with capacity to produce more than 10 million liters of CBD and hemp extracts. HempRise would employ as many as 75 people at River Ridge.

“After a multistate search, HempRise selected the Southern Indiana region because it provided access to a terrific labor pool, proximity to an airport with non-stop service to their west coast corporate office, and easy access for customers—all critical for their operational needs,” said Scott Kupperman, of Kupperman Location Solutions.

Last year, Medline, a manufacturer and distributor of products for healthcare companies, opened a $70 million, 1.1 million-square-foot facility. The center also is home to Optum, a national distributor, and Knipper & Co., a distributor of samples and medications for the healthcare industry.

Want to learn more about corporate expansion in the biotechnology industry?

Does your biotech company have a relocation or expansion project in the works? Check out all the latest economic development, corporate relocation, corporate expansion and site selection news related to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

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