Biotech: Finding The DNA For Growth

Life-changing biotech breakthroughs are poised to move out of the labs and into the marketplace, as the emerging science of genomics uses DNA to customize medicine.

By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2019 Issue

If you want to know the state of play in the biotech sector, take a look at the soaring atrium of the new Paul Probst Center for Precision Medicine at the HudsonAlpha Institute in Huntsville, AL. The architecture of the entrance to this facility, which is filled with state-of-the-art labs built to National Institutes of Health standards, is emblematic of an industry whose breakthroughs are poised to burst out of the labs and change our lives.

A view of the Genentech’s CCP1 and CCP2 facilities in Vacaville. (Photo:

If you want a good benchmark for the potential of emerging biotech markets, genomics is a perfect example (the precision medicine at HudsonAlpha utilizes genomic science—reading an individual DNA—to identify the appropriate treatment for that individual’s medical needs).

Industry analysts project that the global genomics market will grow at an average annual rate of 13.5 percent from 2019 to 2024, nearly doubling from its current level of $18.9 billion to $35.7 billion by 2024. Factors influencing this spectacular growth rate include increased government funding, decreasing gene-sequencing costs and the proliferation of genomics startups. The bottom line: biotech is ready for the big time.


The City of Vacaville’s economic history is firmly rooted in growing a variety of industries, from its earliest agricultural ventures to its place as the capital of the Interstate 80 corridor today.

Warm weather during the spring and summer made for perfect conditions for large-scale agricultural production during the city’s early history. That has now given way to industrial opportunities, a thriving and growing biotech sector, advanced manufacturing ventures, logistics centers, multiple retail centers and more.

“Our area is absolutely beautiful,” says Don Burrus, economic development manager for Vacaville. “We are close to most of the foothills of the mountain range, so the quality of life here is very nice. A lot of people, once they come here, want to stay. It’s a very family-oriented community. It has a tangible, small-town feel that we’ve been able to maintain, and people are very friendly and very helpful here.”

The beauty of Vacaville lies not only it is ambience and its people, but in its willingness to work with companies considering a relocation or expansion to this Northern California city of over 100,000 residents.

“We like to say we start with yes,” Burrus said. “Beyond that, we offer a high quality of life, a low cost of doing business, and an affordability that means your employees can afford to live where they work.”

Even with a strong agricultural heritage that exists today—the Mariani Packing Company has its headquarters in Vacaville and produces over 150 million pounds of dried fruit each year—Vacaville’s economy is diverse.

“We’ve developed new economies, and we have a growing biotechnology and life science cluster here in Vacaville,” says Mark Mazzaferro, who has been the public information officer at Vacaville for almost 13 years. “We boast several life science companies and are home to one of the largest in the world, Genentech.” Other biotech partners include DesigneRx, Johnson & Johnson, Durect and Novici.

One of the reasons the biotech cluster is here and continues to grow is the City’s relationship with Solano Community College. SCC is the first community college to offer a four-year degree in biotechnology, providing a steady supply of highly-trained and qualified workers to the industry.

Along with biotech, one of the businesses sectors that have made Vacaville home is advanced manufacturing. This segment has the potential to be one of the strongest areas of growth in Vacaville for a variety of reasons: available workforce, proximity to air, land and sea transportation, and available land and buildings. Those factors, together with a staff willing and ready to help guide your business through the entitlement process, makes Vacaville an ideal location.

Advanced manufacturing companies that call Vacaville home include ICON Aircraft, builder of the ICON A5, an amphibious light-sport aircraft; Simonton Windows Inc., with 12 different window and patio door lines; WunderBar; which manufactures dispensing systems for the food and beverage industry; and All Weather Insulated Panels, an innovator in the design, construction and advancement of foam composite insulated metal panels.

Whatever business you might be in, when you come to Vacaville, you’ll be in good company.

Vacaville has much to offer in terms of developable land—over 1,000 shovel-ready acres; three separate water supplies (ground water, Monticello Dam and State of California state water project); and a staff willing to work with prospective companies to make the approval process as easy as possible.

Northern California’s top industrial developers, including LDK Ventures, Buzz Oates, Schaal Realty Advisors, Dermody Properties, and Sierra Pacific Properties are currently working on over 3.5 million square feet of industrial space.

All this is supported by our proximity to major universities—UC Davis, Sacramento State, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Touro University—and our proximity to highways, rail, airports and deep water ports mean you’re less than a day away from anywhere in the world.

Along with the tangibles, we offer many reasons beyond business to come to our community. Vacaville can offer you an outstanding quality of life for your employees. We’re part of Solano County, the most affordable of the nine Bay Area counties. Median home prices start in the $400,000 range; we’re a short drive to the Napa Valley and the Sonoma wine growing regions; and we’re known as the retail center of Northern California, with the Vacaville Premium Outlets along with the Nut Tree Plaza, California’s legendary road stop.

Vacaville has a small town atmosphere; countless community and neighborhood parks; a charming downtown that hosts many music festivals; numerous outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and rock climbing; and Lake Tahoe and all of its recreational opportunities are an easy day trip from our community. Our median household income is $86,322, and over 14 percent of our households earn over $100,000. There are 78 colleges offering Associate’s Degrees and 106 universities offering a Bachelor’s Degree or higher within 50 miles of our city.

We’ve covered a lot of ground, but one thing is certain: Vacaville has a lot to offer your business and your employees, including an affordable business climate and an opportunity to grow that we feel is unmatched in the Bay Area.

For more information on the many opportunities that exist in Vacaville, please contact


Frederick, MD is a thriving bioscience community. Home to Fort Detrick—the leading medical research laboratory for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program, the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research operated by Leidos Biomedical Research, and several global vaccine giants, Frederick boasts a cluster of eminent research and bio-manufacturing facilities that have made the area a hub for innovation in the life sciences.

Thermo Fisher Scientific added its new Cryo-Innovation Center and the National Cancer Institute Central Repository for Clinical Trials in Frederick, MD this year. (Photo: Matan, Inc.)

Frederick County’s reputation for innovation benefits from the presence and technology focus of local research institutions housed at Fort Detrick, a key driver in growing the County’s advanced technology and bioscience industries. Businesses enjoy strong biotechnology transfer opportunities from the federal labs at Fort Detrick and the National Cancer Institute. Patents invented by Frederick County residents are growing faster in the County than at either the state or national level for further evidence of an innovative economy.

Complementing efforts of federal labs are a number of major life science employers including AstraZeneca, ThermoFisher Scientific and Lonza who represent nearly 1,600 jobs. Numerous successful small and mid-sized companies engaged in a range of testing, product development and manufacturing contribute to a total number of over 80 cutting-edge bioscience companies—enabling the Frederick region to outperform the nation in terms of bioscience business growth. Recent site selections by Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences, for their 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for cancer immunotherapy products as well as SignaGen Laboratories for their 16,000 square foot lab and manufacturing facility for gene therapy vector for clinical trials shows the continued evolution in the county.

Frederick is the northern anchor of the I-270 Technology Corridor in Maryland, which is one of the largest bioscience clusters in the U.S. With close proximity to the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the National Cancer Institute-Frederick, this location gives companies unparalleled access to some of the most cited researchers and top influencers in the world.

Less than an hour from both Washington, DC and Baltimore, it also offers close proximity to federal regulatory agencies. Frederick County is also part of the BioHealth Capital Region Initiative to be a Top 3 Biotech Hub by 2023.

The Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc (FITCI), named one of the largest incubators and accelerators by the Baltimore Business Journal in 2017, offers biotech and life science entrepreneurs over 20,000 SF of space with 35 offices, 16 wet labs and state-of-the-art services geared towards accelerating biotech entrepreneurs. In 2019 FITCI will be launching their 12 week accelerator program, The Edge, that will take startups from idea to pitch with help of community mentors, speakers and investors.

Several success stories have bloomed from FITCI whose graduates have grown into becoming bioscience leaders. Akonni Biosystems who commercializes microarray-based systems, leads venture capital funding in Frederick County with institutional investments totaling over $17 million. RoosterBio successfully transitioned from start-up to a thriving stem cell manufacturer and was recently awarded a multi-million dollar grant from a DOD-sponsored consortium and US Army partners.

Frederick County is home to a well-educated workforce that is growing. Frederick County’s percentage of residents with Bachelor’s degrees or above is 41 percent and exceeds the State of Maryland rate of 39 percent.

Access to four quality higher education facilities ensures that an available biotechnology and life science workforce remains top-notch. The County’s higher education institutions—Mount Saint Mary’s University, Hood College, and Frederick Community College have supported the growing need for higher education in biotechnology fields. The Frederick Center for Research and Education in Science and Technology (CREST) is a Maryland-approved regional higher education center whose mission is to provide a science, technology and engineering (STEM)-based research hub to meet the needs of regional employers.

Throughout efforts to attract and retain top talent, bioscience companies in Frederick benefit immensely from the desirable local quality of life. In addition to readily-available & quality education and health resources, Frederick boasts a vibrant Downtown, featuring a uniquely living, breathing historic district. The beautiful, two-and-a half century old streets lay stage to a thriving arts & entertainment scene and a wide-range of award-winning, independent restaurants. In recent years, prompted by the success of Frederick-based Flying Dog Brewery, the local craft beverage community has gained national recognition. Despite offering a full-range of urban conveniences, nationally-known outdoor destinations—including the Appalachian Trail and the Potomac River—lay just minutes away. This unique combination of amenities has earned Frederick County numerous national accolades for its high quality of life, which, in turn, continues to fuel the many growth opportunities for business.

Frederick’s strategic location, easy access to world-class bioscience facilities, lower relative cost of business, and a readily available high-quality workforce have set the right conditions for bioscience companies to grow and thrive.

For information on locating or expanding a business in the Frederick area, visit the City of Frederick Economic Development at


When people think of “Pharm Country”—the U.S. hotbed of biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical companies in the Northeast—New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania tend to come to mind first, given the presence of mammoth organizations like Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb. But more recently, 1,000-or-so-square-mile Rhode Island has been welcoming new facilities and jobs across the spectrum, from biologics and pharmaceuticals to medical devices and diagnostics.

Today, the health and life sciences industry concentration in Rhode Island sits 31 percent higher than the national average, churning $500 million in annual revenue, and employing some 20 percent of the state’s workforce.

State-led programs and incentives developed to foster growth in the biotech sector range from tax credits to investments in workers themselves. The Qualified Jobs Incentive program offers annual tax credits to organizations that expand their Rhode Island workforce. Innovation Voucher grants, available up to $50,000, go towards the funding of early research and development collaborations with Rhode Island universities, research centers or medical centers. And Rebuild Rhode Island credits, designed to bridge financing gaps for Rhode Island companies’ real estate needs, can assist with up to 20 to 30 percent of approved projects.

To help retain the most talented employees, Rhode Island also has Wavemaker Fellowships—student loan assistance for graduates who choose to work in STEM and design fields in RI—and Real Jobs Rhode Island, a demand driven workforce development initiative that offers job placement assistance and free or paid training, in partnership with Rhode Island businesses and organizations. One recent example of this program is a new 10-week, 300-hour training in Process Technology. Tuition is free and funded through Real Jobs Rhode Island and rapidly educates students in the disciplines used in process technology.

Over the past three years, CommerceRI, Rhode Island’s commerce department, says it’s invested nearly $30 million into the life sciences in the state, resulting in more than 700 added jobs in the sector.

Local leaders, residents and organizations in or attached to the biotech sector are putting their energy in, too.

The RI BioHub advocacy group—a state partnership with local industry leaders and professionals—aims to “transform RI’s Life Sciences industry cluster” by fostering collaboration and providing support, through events, training opportunities and more.

Rhode Island educational Institutions are making their own moves to spur growth. Brown University partnered with venture capital company The Slater Fund on The Brown Venture Founders program, a post-grad initiative that provides support for Brown grads building startups—biotech-leaning ones included—in Rhode Island. The University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island School of Design teamed with local companies Lifespan and Ximedica to launch NEMIC (the New England Medical Innovation Center) in 2017, a mentorship/coworking non-profit meant to aid Rhode Island entrepreneurs in biotech fields as they get young businesses off the ground.

Rhode Island is home to a world-class concentration of educational institutions. The state steadily educates thousands of the bright minds of biotech’s future. Universities in the Providence-Boston area send more than 5,300 biology and biological sciences graduates into the workforce each year.

Between the efforts of Rhode Island leadership, learning institutions and industry leaders, and players, the past three years have shown that job gap shrinking significantly.

A major, recent Rhode Island biotech win: Amgen, named among the U.S.’s top 10 most valuable public life-science companies, extended its commitment to the state after a global search, choosing West Greenwich, RI, for its new, $160-million biomanufacturing plant. The Rebuild Rhode Island tax credit program and the Qualified Jobs Incentive Act were both part of the deal that sealed Amgen’s decision.

Rubius Therapeutics, a Cambridge, MA-based startup, also recently announced plans to build its manufacturing plant in Smithfield, RI. These companies represent hundreds of new biotech jobs to Rhode Island.


The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology campus is designed to grow small biotech companies into larger companies.

“What is the two-person startup moving from a university’s lab or their garage going to need?” explained Carter Wells, vice president of economic development for HudsonAlpha. “We’ve got 240-square-foot lab spaces for lease. It’s a good size for a smaller company. Or as that company grows, we’ve got seven of them next to each other, so you can just expand as needed.”

HudsonAlpha continues building more wet lab and office on its 152-acre campus in the heart of Cummings Research Park in “Rocket City” Huntsville, Alabama. Opened in fall of 2018, the Paul Propst Center, the newest building on the biotech campus was funded by the state of Alabama and community support, including the late Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Propst Jr.

Four biotech companies expanded into the Propst Center from their previous spaces in HudsonAlpha’s flagship building, some doubling their previous footprint. Only about 6,000 square feet remains not yet leased, though several growing tenants have their eye toward expansion already.

Fostering success of biotechs of all sizes and stages was the vision of co-founders Jim Hudson and the late Lonnie McMillian, which became a mission of the nonprofit institute, HudsonAlpha, over 10 years ago.

Their passion for helping innovative biotech entrepreneurs have the resources and support network necessary to get from “bench to bedside” continues on the growing biotech campus. Collaboration and the flexibility to grow have proven key components of success at HudsonAlpha.

“Incremental growth has always been the model for us,” Gregg Tyree, Director of Operations said. “How do we accommodate the incremental growth for growing biotechs? You know, ‘I need another lab, I need another office’. We don’t want to lose the small biotech once they start growing. We want to keep them here.”

State and city leaders, including Gov. Kay Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, gathered at 800 Hudson Way last fall for the grand opening of the new 105,000-square-foot building at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

Institute President Dr. Rick Myers told a ribbon-cutting crowd in fall 2018 that the institute had grown in 10 years from five biotech companies to over 35. That growth pace means staying ahead of the space new and existing tenants will need as they move from research and development to market.

The Paul Propst Center expands the HudsonAlpha footprint with 105,000 additional square feet of laboratories, offices, and collaborative space. Extra details in design—glass walls, common sidewalks, a grand staircase—create a “team science” environment and contribute to a culture of collaboration.

“The Paul Propst Center not only adds more space but more opportunity for HudsonAlpha and its resident associate companies to grow,” said Jim Hudson, HudsonAlpha co-founder.

Before moving into the new building, “we started to take small bites of the apple here and there and we finally ran out of space,“ said Marshall Schreeder, vice president of sales and marketing for Discovery Life Sciences. “We feel both fortunate to be a part of HudsonAlpha and the Huntsville community. I’m from here and love it here but we could have started our company anywhere.

“What we didn’t realize is how this community would embrace us… and how well this vision would work out.”

The Paul Propst Center, the latest addition to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology campus, was honored at the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of North Alabama 2018 Excellence in Construction awards. The following companies received awards for their work on the Paul Propst Center: Brasfield & Gorrie—Award of Excellence and the 2018 General Contractor Project of the Year (more than $25 Million); LBYD Engineers—Award of Excellence; and Marathon Electrical Contractors—Award of Merit.

“We wanted this building to reflect HudsonAlpha’s collaborative culture and everyone involved did an incredible job bringing that vision to life,“ said Gregg Tyree, director of operations at HudsonAlpha. “It’s great to see their hard work recognized.”

Glass-walled offices that allow tenants to see who’s available across the lobby for a quick chat are among the intentional features to foster collaboration and inspiration. Limited access points and common sidewalks are another way to stimulate walking and talking together.

The huge building also features “clean rooms“ for handling biological samples, private rooms for counseling patients from the center’s genomic medicine clinic, and classrooms and labs for the students and teachers who come each year from across north Alabama.

The newest building on campus has three education labs where the HudsonAlpha Educational Outreach team provide hands-on laboratory experiences for students and inspire the next generation of scientists.

HudsonAlpha’s education programs have reached more than five million learners in just ten years and have a proven track record of workforce development success. Many students that experienced HudsonAlpha’s hands-on classroom activities, or participated in summer camps or internship programs are now a part of the HudsonAlpha workforce, or working in life science research institutes or companies across the country.

“I remember when our first building was under construction and even then, I knew HudsonAlpha was going to be something special,“ said Neil Lamb, PhD, vice president for Educational Outreach.


“Open for Innovation” is the phrase MRA Group coined for its newest development, Spring House Innovation Park, a 14-building office, laboratory, research and development complex situated on 133 pristine acres in Lower Gwynedd Township, Montgomery County, PA. MRA purchased the property in March 2017 from Dow Chemical Co., who procured the campus through its acquisition of Rohm and Haas. MRA acquired the tired property with the vision of repurposing and repositioning the campus into the premier regional hub for innovation. “From the moment we stepped foot on the property, we envisioned reutilizing the existing structures to create a destination location for innovators, thought leaders and researchers who could collaborate in a unique campus setting,” said Mike Wojewodka, Senior Vice President and Partner of MRA Group. “The laboratory infrastructure is robust, with existing labs designed to give science and tech innovators high quality space engineered to deliver form, function and fluidity, and provide everything that a scientific team demands today, coupled with the flexibility to expand as teams grow and technology evolves.”

Spring House innovation Park, a 133-acre an office, laboratory, research and development complex in Montgomery County, PA was developed on a site formerly owned by Dow Chemical Co.

One of the best attributes of Spring House Innovation Park is its location. Unparalleled in visibility, working environment, accessibility and quality of life, the property sits adjacent to the four way on/off ramp of limited access Rt. 309, a major regional artery that connects the core of Bucks and Montgomery Counties to the City of Philadelphia. Just minutes from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the campus is part of what is newly-defined as the Metropolitan Division of the larger Philadelphia metro area that includes Montgomery County, Bucks County and Chester County. The region has a burgeoning biotech sector that is now one of the largest in the U.S.

Lawrence J. Stuardi, president of MRA believes that the axiom “Open for Innovation” is not only illustrative of Spring House Innovation Park but also describes the larger Philadelphia metro area, given the amount of innovation occurring throughout the region. According to a recent publication by CBRE, the Philadelphia metro area is one of the top ten life science markets in the nation. The region is home to the first FDA-approved CAR-T cell therapy and the first FDA-approved gene therapy, leading some to refer to the region as “Cellicon Valley.”

In an effort to ensure that the region remains competitive through a properly trained workforce, Thomas Jefferson University is constructing the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB) training and education facility at Spring House Innovation Park. Developed in partnership with the National Institute for

Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), JIB will be the only facility in the U.S. combining GE FlexFactory Single-Use reactors and the NIBRT curriculum, which originated in Dublin, Ireland. “There are a handful of institutions in the world addressing this emerging field, and Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) is poised to lead students and industry professionals through the world of biologics,” said Dr. Ronald G. Kander, Associate Provost for Applied Research and Dean of Jefferson University’s Kanbar College.

With a physical design that sparks collaboration and idea sharing, combined with a dynamic campus that elevates the work/life experience, the 600,000 square feet of innovative workspace at Spring House Innovation Park provides a unique environment, not only for the multi-disciplined industries that locate to the campus, but also as a multi-generational destination for the surrounding community. JeanMarie Markham, CEO of Clinlogix, an international clinical research firm, was an early supporter of MRA’s vision and decided to relocate her company to Spring House Innovation Park. Having offices strategically located around the globe, Clinlogix selected Spring House Innovation Park as its World Headquarters on account of its accessible location and MRA’s development vision to create a regional hub of innovation excellence. “Locating our business to Spring House Innovation Park has enabled us to attract new talent while further facilitating our Innovation Pathway for the Life Sciences,” she said.

In addition to first class office space and laboratory facilities, MRA has crafted a campus environment that will include a 100-room branded hotel, conference facilities with shared office space, on-site child daycare, a wellness/ fitness center, and a brewery /restaurant. Additionally, MRA envisions developing a small amenities-based retail village and a planned residential community.

All told, MRA will have invested more than $100 million into the development of Spring House Innovation Park and expects that the overall return on the investment to the region and economy will be more than five-times that.