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NCI Breaks Ground on Facility Aimed at Partnership Initiative

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – With construction finally starting on the $200 million first phase of the National Cancer Institute's Advanced Technology Research Facility at Riverside Research Park in Frederick, Md. — work delayed because of the recession — the project's locally-based developer has already begun talking to tenant prospects considering leases for the second phase.

The partner space reflects a component of NCI's Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative, which aims to help speed up commercialization of new drugs by bringing together technologies and expertise from multiple sources.

NCI, its prime operations and technical support contractor SAIC-Frederick, and the project's developer, the Matan Companies, joined at a November 2008 groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the start of work on the facility, a single 330,000-square-foot building.

That event marked the signing of a lease with SAIC-Frederick for the ATRF — a lease contingent on securing financing. Work was halted soon after Matan found itself unable to secure financing to build the project, one of many developers caught in the lending freeze that touched off the current recession.

The issue was resolved earlier this month, when Matan joined with Federal Capital Partners to secure $52 million in construction financing from Wells Fargo Bank and US Bank. Federal, based in Washington, DC, is a real estate investment and development company founded by two former principals of the Carlyle Group.

"It was a bit frustrating given the bailout fund was supposed to unfreeze the lending market, but there was no money out there," J.P. Matan, director of leasing for his family's development business, told GenomeWeb Daily News. "Eventually, US Bank and Wells Fargo were able to understand the bigger picture of this project."

The new facility will bring into one space NCI-Frederick operations now scattered in 33 separate buildings less than three miles west, within the perimeter of the US Army's Fort Detrick.

"The building will consolidate our staff, which will make us more efficient," Frank Blanchard, a spokesman for SAIC-Frederick, told GWDN. "It will provide space in which we can work side-by-side with our research and development partners from industry, academia, other government agencies, and the nonprofit sector. It will also provide space that could potentially be used for education programs to help train the next generation of translational research scientists."

The new building will house a wide range of advanced research and development technologies — from biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing to genomics and nanotechnology — that ATPI partners can access by collaborating with NC, he saidI. By bringing partners together with advanced technology, ATPI aims to advance co-development of biomarkers and diagnostics with therapeutics, in hopes of speeding up drug development and clinical outcomes for cancer patients.

"The community environment would encourage close collaboration among multiple partners that could result in a technology and development 'think-tank' to tackle common problems and barriers to the successful development of products for cancer patients," Blanchard added.

Partners for the new space have yet to emerge. However, when they do, they will occupy space set aside for the collaborations, with NCI-Frederick occupying the rest of the building.

"Any of our current and future ATPI partners could decide to collocate," Blanchard said. "We have spoken with a number of educational institutions, a business incubator, and other organizations who might want to have a permanent presence at Riverside.

"Matan is also offering the site to similar organizations," he said. "The space could be developed as soon as an organization expresses an interest."

Blanchard said NCI-Frederick's first-phase building would house 200,000 square feet of laboratories, plus lab support and administrative support space; 24,000 square feet of purely administrative space; and 115,000 square feet of cGMP manufacturing space to be overseen by the Biopharmaceutical Development Program for a pilot development facility to include quality control labs, development laboratories, quality assurance support, and administrative support space.

"The facility includes a broad range of capacities for developing novel biopharmaceuticals from recombinant proteins expressed in bacteria or cell culture to viruses designed to target cancer cells," Blanchard said. "The scale of the facility is to support preclinical prototype agent development for animal studies through to multi-gram quantities of biological therapeutics for first-in-human Phase I/II clinical studies."

The project is set for completion in mid-2011.