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NYC's New Alexandria Center Envisions Translationally-Focused Institutes in its Tenant Mix

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The developer of the just-completed first phase of a life sciences campus on Manhattan's East Side says the Big Apple's academic and nonprofit research institutions will be among those who stand to benefit from the project.

Joel Marcus, chairman, CEO and founder of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, said that an as-yet undisclosed pharmaceutical company now in talks to lease a half-floor to a full-floor — between 15,000 and 30,000 square feet — at the Alexandria Center for Life Science – New York will create a laboratory "specifically designed to collaborate with institutions.

"They're going to invite institutional scientists on campus so they can get them out of their campuses in here to create collaborations," Marcus told GenomeWeb Daily News today. "It's going to be a whole new way of doing biopharma life science collaboration."

While research institutions are among prospective tenants to which Alexandria is marketing the campus, the publicly-traded real estate investment trust is interested less in pure academic research than those seeking to commercialize their discoveries, Marcus said.

Translationally-focused institutes are envisioned as part of Alexandria Center's tenant mix, along with pharma giants, and both small and large biotech companies. For those institutes, Alexandria is positioning the campus as a solution to two of their key needs.

"The two most important things is access to the great science of New York, and this provides direct access, both on-site and proximal. And the second is, can they recruit here great scientific talent? The answer is yes," Marcus said, pointing to both researchers and business development professionals capable of commercializing their discoveries.

The center will also benefit research institutions through amenities ranging from a restaurant and an active conference center, to a "Science Hotel" consisting of two 27,000-square-foot floors of space for early-stage spinouts seeking lab space suites of between 3,000 and 15,000 square feet; and a suite of offices for venture capitalists and foundations.

"We've had demand for as small as 900 or 1,000 square feet. At the moment, we can't accommodate that, but maybe someday in the West Tower we'll do that," Marcus added.

The West tower is the second of three planned for the campus site, and Alexandria would like to start construction on it within two years, followed two years after that by the North tower. By 2016 or 2017, Marcus said, Alexandria envisions building out the entire 1.1 million square feet of lab space for which it has approvals to build on the campus, bordered by First Avenue, 28th and 30th streets, and the East River.

Marcus spoke in an interview following an event held to mark the completion of the Alexandria Center for Life Science – New York. The center now consists of a single 16-story laboratory/office building with 310,000 square feet of rentable space, of which 54 percent has been leased, with "virtually all of the other space under lease negotiation," Marcus said.

The building's anchor tenant has already begun moving in: ImClone Systems, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eli Lilly, will occupy 90,000 square feet for a new oncology research headquarters to be occupied by 140 scientists. Lilly acquired ImClone in 2008.

Richard Gaynor, vice president, product development/medical affairs in the oncology business unit of Eli Lilly and Co., noted that ImClone has long collaborated since its founding in 1984 in New York with regional institutions that include NYU Langone Medical Center, whose campus is directly north of the Alexandria Center on 1st Avenue, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, and Columbia University Medical Center.

"We collaborate a lot on biomarker work with a lot of different academic institutions," Gaynor said. Rather than pursue far-reaching collaborations, as Novartis has with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to produce anti-cancer agents, and as H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center has with Merck in personalized medicine, "we're actually into more tailored collaboration. We really go more to collaborating with individual investigators no matter where they might be," he said.

ImClone maintains partnerships with institutions beyond the region as well, such as the Translational Genomics Research Institute and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"There's even more need than before to collaborate more closely in the tougher financial environment, to ensure that whatever innovation is generated can be used for therapeutic applications, benefiting patients in their own lives," said Jan Lundberg, president of Lilly Research Laboratories and Eli Lilly's executive vice president of science and technology. "Lilly wants to have facilities in regions where there is a lot of world-class science locally, and [the Alexandria Center facility] is a good example of that."

ImClone is one of two signed tenants at Alexandria Center; the other is Firmenich, a Swiss-owned maker of fragrance and flavor chemicals that occupies 3,200 square feet. Speaking with GWDN, Marcus said Alexandria is also about two months away from announcing a second anchor lease for 75,000 square feet with a tenant he would only describe as "a neuroscience entity" engaged in translational research.

"Probably most all of the space, probably 95 percent will be leased, I guess sometime by year end. So the building hopefully, with some luck, will be fully stabilized."

Alexandria delayed breaking ground on additional space at the campus shortly after the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, part of a companywide reduction in capital spending and operating costs wrought by the recession.

Alexandria marked the first-phase completion of its New York campus with an hour-long discussion. Lundberg and six other speakers extolled the virtues of scientific collaboration, and expressed hope that the campus could foster additional partnerships, and nurture new life sciences companies based on technologies at the institutes.

Speaking with Lundberg were Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard, Vincent Astor Professor in the laboratory of molecular and cellular neuroscience at The Rockefeller University; Gerald Weissmann, research professor of medicine and director of the Biotechnology Study Center at NYU School of Medicine and chair of the Prix Galien USA Committee; Carl Gordon, founding general partner of healthcare investment firm Orbimed Advisors; Sharon Mates, chairman and CEO of Intra-Cellular Therapies; Jan Vilcek, professor of microbiology at NYU School of Medicine; and John Johnson, president of Lilly Oncology and senior vice president with Eli Lilly.

"There are a number of world-class research institutions here in the New York City area. And I think the research here in New York is just as strong as anywhere else in the world. What we have been just a little bit less successful at, I think, is translating that research into companies that are produced here in this area," Gordon said.

"I really know of no reason why New York could not become like Boston or San Diego in terms of the numbers of companies that are spawned from the research institutions. And I'm hopeful that this facility is going to facilitate and strengthen that process," he said.