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Deals and Doings: Dec 1, 2008

Alexandria Real Estate Equities Halts Work on Boston, Cambridge, Mass., Projects
With the frozen credit market for new constriction projects and a reluctance by tenants to commit to space among factors, Alexandria Real Estate Equities told local newspapers that it was postponing construction on new lab space projects in Boston and Cambridge, Mass.
The delays reflect Alexandria’s new policy, announced to analysts last month, of halting groundbreakings on new projects beyond those already under construction pending improvement in the credit market [BRN, Nov. 3].
Alexandria and partner National Development have halted work on the $300 million, 425,000-square-foot Longwood Center project set for a 1-acre site land owned by the Joslin Diabetes Center at Brookline and Longwood avenues, in Boston’s pricey Longwood Medical Area. Longwood Center will remain on hold at least until spring, executives from both developers told the Boston Globe.
The delay will push back by a few months the project’s completion date, set for 2011.
Tom Andrews, senior vice president at Alexandria, told the Globe that the developers decided it would be too risky to proceed without legal commitments, though talks with tenant prospects are continuing: "Given the current economic conditions, it's hard to imagine starting heavy construction until we have substantial preleasing.”
Tom Alperin, president of National Development, told the Globe prospective tenants have been unwilling to commit to the complex — a prerequisite for securing construction loans.
“The demand is there for a laboratory project, it's just a question of when tenants will feel comfortable enough to proceed,” Alperin said. “Caution is prevailing right now.”
To date, developers have demolished two buildings and leveled the construction site, but work has yet to begin on laying the foundation for the nine-story building.
In Cambridge, Alexandria has postponed the redevelopment of 75,000 square feet of lab space at 215 First St., comprising approximately 20 percent of the building’s floor area. “Given the current economic climate, we are exercising prudence and re-phasing the project in order to appropriately assess market conditions,” Andrews told the Boston Business Journal in an e-mail statement, adding: “This renovation project remains a high priority for Alexandria.”
The renovation would more than double the current 30,000-square-foot lab space now in place at 215 First St., a 380,000-square-foot building also called the Atheneum, David Townsend, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, the property’s leasing agent, told the BBJ. He said about 15 companies are currently seeking between 5,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet of lab space in the area.
Alexandria planned to build out incubator lab space on a speculative basis — or without solid lease commitments from tenants.

MedImmune Plans Near-Doubling of Gaithersburg, Md., HQ Campus Space
MedImmune is designing a seven-story building, including five finished floors and 300,000 square feet, as the next phase of its campus expansion designed to nearly double the space of its headquarters campus in Gaithersburg, Md., the Washington Business Journal reported last week.
The division of AstraZeneca expects to break ground on the project in the first half of next year with a late 2011 opening date, the newspaper reported. MedImmune said it needed the new space to accommodate hundreds of new employees hired this past year and expected to be hired in 2009.
MedImmune, the largest biotech in Maryland’s Montgomery County, now has 361,000 square feet of space in its HQ campus.

URI Scrambles to Plug $5M Shortfall for Biotech Center Construction at Kingston Campus
The University of Rhode Island is weighing proposals and “aggressively” talking to potential donors interested in plugging a $5 million shortfall in the cost of constructing the 140,000-square-foot Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences taking shape on the Kingston, RI, campus, a spokesman told the Providence Journal last week.
The shortfall will not stop the planned January opening of the biotech center — but will prevent the completion of office space planned for the fourth floor. Administrative offices for Jeffrey Seemann, dean of URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, and other faculty and staff will remain in Woodward Hall until the fourth floor can be finished, spokesman Todd McLeish told the Journal, which followed up on an initial report in URI’s student newspaper, The 5 Cent Cigar.
Rhode Island voters approved a $50 million bond to finance construction of the center in 2004. Two years later, URI administrators said the university would raise private funding to cover the difference between the bond and the cost, whose estimates ranged from $58 million to $60 million.
The center will open next month with facilities that include a 400-seat auditorium; equipment to support genomics, proteomics, and DNA sequencing activity; a biosafety level-3 lab; and a lab to keep saltwater fish for testing and research.

Integrated Biomolecule Sells Oro Valley, Ariz., Facility to Ventana Medical for $6.5M
Biotechnology firm Integrated Biomolecule Corp. has sold its Oro Valley, Ariz., facility to Ventana Medical Systems for $6.5 million, according to Inside Tucson (Ariz.) Business.

The 18,000-square-foot building, at 2005 E. Innovation Park Drive, had been Integrated Biomolecule’s main base of operations. The company is currently in transitional space and is looking for new headquarters soon, founder and President Robert Green told the newspaper, adding: “We’re actually working with the University of Arizona to work on a joint project on organic synthesis. We’re still in town, we’re still in business.”
Founded in 1992, Integrated Biomolecule specializes in development and analytic services for diagnostics and pharmaceutical trials. Ventana Medical is owned by Swiss-based Roche Holding, which announced last month it would hire about 250 additional employees as part of an expansion of its Tucson operations.

"Acquiring the existing IBC facility allows for immediate expansion of our research and development capabilities," a Ventana spokeswoman, Alana Bolton, said in a statement. "This purchase underscores our commitment for further growth in the community.

Three Life-Sci Startups Eye Soon-to-be-Vacated City Hall in Surprise, Ariz.
Three startups with specialties in biotech and pharmaceutical production have expressed an interest in leasing space within the 58,000-square-foot City Hall that is to be vacated next year by officials in the city of Surprise, Ariz., when they move into a $61 million new facility under construction and set to be completed in the spring, the Arizona Republic reported last week.
City Manager Randy Oliver said the three wish to be among tenants in an incubator they envision for the building at 12425 W. Bell Road, west of El Mirage Road. The city initially hoped to sell the building, at a minimum price of $8.6 million.
The three prospective tenants were among four that responded to the city’s offer; the fourth, which is not being considered, was a real estate brokerage seeking to convert the space to retail use.
The city will not disclose the names of the tenant prospects pending the outcome of discussions. A committee of city employees is expected to interview the applicants on Dec. 5. The Surprise City Council could address a proposal as soon as early January, Oliver told the Republic.

Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies Opens in Flagstaff
The 10,000-square-foot Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies — an incubator on McMillan Mesa focusing on the life sciences, cleantech and other tech specialties — was opened in a ceremony attended by Gov. Janet Napolitano on Nov. 24, a week before President-Elect Barack Obama announced he will nominate her for secretary of homeland security.
Businessman Lavelle McCoy, the chairman of NACET’s board of directors, told the Arizona Daily Sun he had been working on establishing a business incubator in Flagstaff for eight years.
One of the incubator’s first tenants is SenesTech, a fledgling biotechnology company started six years ago by Northern Arizona University alum Loretta Mayer. The company has one of the largest presences in the incubator, with several employees working out of a total of seven labs and offices.

SenesTech is working to manufacture a nontoxic alternative to the poisons currently used against rice-field rats. The company recently signed a contract with the Australian government to produce the compound.

NACET will also be the home to Northern Arizona University’s tech-transfer office, which will help the school develop and commercialize inventions made by NAU faculty.

The Scan

Self-Reported Hearing Loss in Older Adults Begins Very Early in Life, Study Says

A JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery study says polygenic risk scores associated with hearing loss in older adults is also associated with hearing decline in younger groups.

Genome-Wide Analysis Sheds Light on Genetics of ADHD

A genome-wide association study meta-analysis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder appearing in Nature Genetics links 76 genes to risk of having the disorder.

MicroRNA Cotargeting Linked to Lupus

A mouse-based study appearing in BMC Biology implicates two microRNAs with overlapping target sites in lupus.

Enzyme Involved in Lipid Metabolism Linked to Mutational Signatures

In Nature Genetics, a Wellcome Sanger Institute-led team found that APOBEC1 may contribute to the development of the SBS2 and SBS13 mutational signatures in the small intestine.