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BioBricks & Mortar: Feb 23, 2009


Work on Harvard University's $1B Allston Campus Slows Down with the Economy

Harvard University President Drew Faust last week announced a slowdown, and possible suspension, of work on its $1 billion Allston campus absent improvement in the economy. The university plans to finish the foundation, then bring the structure to ground level this year, but may not be able to complete the 350-acre, 589,000-square-foot science-oriented campus in time for its planned opening in 2011, she said.

Faust announced the slowdown in letters to the Harvard community and the Allston community. The slowdown follows a projected 30-percent plunge during the year that will end June 30 in the value of Harvard's endowment, now at $36.9 billion. Endowment funds cover more than a third of the university's $3.5 billion operating budget.

"Although long-term planning for other Allston development will continue, it will occur at a slower pace," Faust wrote in her letter to the Harvard community.

"As we approach the end of the current construction phase, we will examine whether economic conditions are enough improved to allow us to continue construction, or whether to reconfigure the building in ways that yield either new cost savings or new space realization, or whether we need to pause construction," Faust wrote.

Ground for the Allston campus was broken last fall, but Harvard warned of a possible construction slowdown as the economy sunk into its current upheaval [BRN, Dec. 8, 2008], and has not progressed since then beyond a hole in the ground. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Faust said the university needed the money it would save on construction for its operating costs, and acknowledged that a construction delay could drive the cost of resuming work even higher, based on the price of building materials.

The science complex was supposed to bring together under one roof researchers from the Medical School, the School of Engineering, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It was to house the university's new department of stem cell and regenerative biology and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, as well as the new Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

The Stem Cell Institute and department will move to renovated laboratory space on Harvard's Cambridge campus. The Wyss Institute will go to the Longwood medical campus and the Cambridge campus. Faust told the Globe it remains unclear when, or even if, they will relocate to Allston.

"Right now, we are facing a very strained financial situation, and we're trying to manage our way through that," Faust told the newspaper. "It's a difficult situation for everyone. We want to do our very best to be a good neighborhood in circumstances we didn't anticipate and in circumstances we wish we didn't have to face."

Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Confirms Talks With Burrill on $1B Elk Run Research Facility

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty confirmed last week to Minnesota Public Radio News that he has had talks with a group of California developers — including G. Stephen Burrill, the biotech investor-analyst — behind a plan to build a $1 billion research center in Pine Island, Minn.

"We've had meetings and discussions with them, and it's a hopeful project, and one that they continue to work on," Pawlenty said of the venture by Tower Investments. "I don't want to speak for them, but if they can get a few more items lined up, that's something you'll be hearing more about in the coming weeks and months."

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Tower has proposed the BioBusiness Park at Elk Run, which would be the anchor of a 1,700-acre mixed-use residential and business development that would transform what is now a fenced expanse of vacant land along Highway 52 called Elk Run. Minnesota's Department of Transportation is considering a $50 million project to improve highway access to the site, MPRN reported, citing as its sources several unnamed lawmakers.

In late January, Pine Island won a $1.2 million state grant toward installation of $2.5 million in onsite infrastructure at the BioBusiness Park at Elk Run. The balance of the cost will be paid by the developer. In January, the Pine Island Council authorized City Engineer Neil Britton of Widseth Smith Nolting to finalize project specifications and begin advertising for bids, with bid awards expected by early- to mid-April of this year [BRN, Feb. 2]

Construction of the infrastructure improvements is expected to start by late May or early June of this year. The city and Tower Investments signed a Master Development Agreement last June, allowing for an earlier phase of off-site infrastructure improvements [BRN, July 21, 2008].

Mayo Clinic spokesman Adam Brase confirmed to MPRN that Mayo is meeting with the developers, but declined to discuss the nature of the talks. The developers declined to talk about the project, saying any announcement would come jointly from them and Mayo.

Burrill, the CEO of Burrill & Co. in San Francisco, also declined an interview request from the radio news outlet. Last September he warned that the economic upheaval will impede the ability of life-sci businesses to obtain financing from venture capital firms, let alone the traditional financing route of selling stock in the public markets [BRN, Sept. 29, 2008].

Champions Biotechnology Inks Lease at East Baltimore's Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins

Champions Biotechnology, a developer of preclinical platforms intended to enhance the value of oncology drugs, has relocated its East Coast operations from Arlington, Va., to about 1,000 square feet of lab space on the sixth floor of the John G. Rangos, Sr. building (855 North Wolfe St.) at the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore, a 1.1 million-square-foot biocampus within a mixed-use project being developed by a partnership led by Forest City Enterprises' Science+Technology Group.

In a statement, Champions cited Maryland's Bio 2020 initiative launched last year by Gov, Martin O'Malley — as well as the biopark's proximity to Johns Hopkins University and its Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Champions' chairman, David Sidransky, is a professor of oncology at the school of medicine.

Champions said it was able to begin East Baltimore operations within 48 hours of signing its lease with the Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership. Colliers Pinkard/ROC Realty represented FC-NEBP and Champions in the transaction.

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Property Owner Pursues 'Biotech Center' Zoning for Eyewear Research Campus in Fort Pierce, Fla.

The vacant former Florida Furniture Mart in Fort Pierce would be transformed into a $30 million eyewear research and manufacturing park that has promised to attract up to 500 new jobs to the city, under a plan advanced by property manager ComNet Realty and under review by city officials, according to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Fort Pierce's City Commission last week held a public hearing on the plan, which would require approval for a conditional use permit to operate a biotech center on Peters Road, near Interstate 95 and Okeechobee Road. The proposed park would provide 152,000 square feet of space for various tenants, including distributors of optical equipment.

Harry Zuker, president of Boca Raton-based CommNet Realty, told the newspaper group he has letters of intent from various companies to lease about 60 percent of the space. Long term, he said, he wants to expand the park on 100 additional acres he owns north and adjacent to the property, from Peters to Graham roads, which would allow him to build out 1.2 million square feet of office, warehouse, and lab space.

"We're looking for this to become a biotech cluster along with Torrey Pines in Tradition," Zuker said.

Zuker also operates the 20-acre Florida Nexus Park in Fort Pierce, where he hopes to lure at least one company from Columbus, Ohio's successful Rickenbacker Optical Village. He told Scripps Treasure Coast he is in talks with lens and frame manufacturers from Canada, Palm Beach County, Texas, and Tampa interested in occupying space at the proposed park. He declined to identify the prospective tenants but did say he was working closely with the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County: "These are not local companies, so it's good job growth."

Northampton CC Rolls Snake Eyes as State Cuts Funds for New $78M Tannersville, Pa., Campus

Northampton Community College will receive just $1.05 million of the $2.4 million it sought this year in state-distributed Mount Airy Resorts casino revenue toward construction of a new $78 million, 200,000-square-foot campus in Tannersville, Pa., developed in part to address the employment needs of pharma giant Sanofi-Aventis, a top regional employer, the Pocono Record Writer reported.

"It just doesn't make sense not to support the community college in adding these programs locally," Monroe County Board of commissioners Chairwoman Suzanne McCool told the newspaper, expressing disappointment with the decision of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

NCC hoped to receive $2.4 million annually for 20 years. Commissioners counter-proposed to DCED that the community college receive $2.3 million each year for 15 years, McCool said.

Construction likely will begin this spring on the campus, which will rise on Route 715 on a 71-acre site near the geographical center of the county. The campus will consist of two connected classroom buildings, a library and tutoring center, and a student life center. The new site can accommodate more than 5,000 students, compared with 2,600 in the overcrowded old facility that will be replaced when the new campus opens — as projected to happen in fall 2010.

DCED spokeswoman Janel Miller told the Record Writer for DCED the agency funded NCC just enough to move the project forward this year: "We tried to do as much as we could with a limited pool of money. There was a lot more demand than supply."

Miller said NCC could apply again next year, and that other state agencies, which she did not identify, may provide funding.

Matt Connell, dean of NCC's Monroe campus, told the newspaper he understood DCED's financial constraint: "I think this is a big step for us just to be able to continue the planning, site preparation and permitting process."

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Construction Begins on Penn State University Applied Research Lab

Work started last week on a 120,000-square-foot building in State College, Pa., that will house Penn State University's Applied Research Lab, the Centre Daily Times reported.

The Science Park Road building is being constructed on farmland near the Raytheon campus and is expected to be completed by January 2010.

Mike Coyle, a manager with C2S LP, the firm developing the building, told the newspaper the Crocker-West Building will make use of precast concrete components that will reduce the overall cost and time associated with construction. The components are cast in rubber molding by a company in Middleburg, Pa., and then brought to the job site by truck for assembly — a process anticipated to take five to six weeks following site preparation.

Coyle said the Mid- Atlantic Precast Association will be using it to showcase the system and will have video cameras set up at the site to broadcast the construction, according to the Daily Times.

The building will be built to be certified "gold" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, energy-efficiency standard of the US Green Building Council.

Meridian Life Science Starts Construction on Expanded Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Facility

Meridian Life Science has announced the start of construction on an expansion of the cGMP biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Memphis, Tenn. Meridian said the expansion will provide an additional cell culture and viral production suite for the manufacture of clinical Phase I vaccines and viral based products, while a separate sterility suite will be constructed to enable testing of incoming materials and finished products.

The cost of the expansion project is $650,000, according to the Memphis Business Journal.

Meridian said the expansion will give it the capability to conduct multiple cGMP vaccine or biopharmaceutical product production runs simultaneously. The new production suite is scheduled to be operational by May, and construction will not affect current operations in the existing cGMP facility, according to Meridian.

In a statement, Meridian said the expansion was necessary to support increased demand of Meridian's biopharmaceutical manufacturing services and to provide continued support for Meridian's $12.2 million, five year contract with the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases for the production of up to 10 Phase I viral vaccines per year. Currently, Meridian has also secured contracts for the production of a live oral rovtavirus vaccine, a divalent virus-like particle vaccine, and contract R&D for a live recombinant influenza vaccine program.

Valois Begins Construction of Plastic Molding Workshop at Congers, NY, Facility

Valois Pharma is constructing a new precision plastic molding workshop at its manufacturing facility in Congers, NY, as part of an ongoing effort to modernize its global manufacturing operations, Outsourcing-pharma reported.

"The new molding workshop will be equipped with novel state-of-the art molding presses to run our precision injection molds," an unidentified company spokeswoman told Outsourcing-pharma, adding that the expansion "[will make] life easier for our US customers when they need to talk face to face with production and quality people as well as to prepare and run audits."

Among products Valois will be able to mold in Congers as a result are nasal pump components, which until now have been molded at Valois plants in Le Vaudreuil, France, and Lugano, Switzerland, before being shipped to the US for assembly.

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Once the molding capacity has been installed later this year, the firm will focus on expanding production capabilities at the site. The expansion is set to be completed in 2011.

Valois last year completed a 30 percent expansion of manufacturing capability at its facilities in Europe, and also grew its production capability at its Aptar facility in Suzhou, China.

PharmaNet Opens Second Latin American Office in Săo Paolo, Brazil

Contract research organization PharmaNet has announced the opening of its second Latin American office in Săo Paolo, Brazil, capping a year in which the company's stock price nearly collapsed and it was acquired by a private equity firm.

The new office comes on line almost six years after the company opened its Buenos Aires office in 2003. The offices are intended to complement PharmaNet's network of field staff in Peru and Mexico, with additional activity in Colombia and Chile.

"The number of clinical trials in Latin America has experienced significant growth over the past ten years," Fernanda Duran, executive director, Latin American operations, said in a statement. "Our clients are more actively requesting Latin American sites in order to meet aggressive timelines for patient recruitment, thus bringing their new drugs to market sooner."

The price of company stock had cratered from $42 per share to 68 cents per share, due to several cancelled and delayed contracts, in the year preceding the Feb. 4 announcement of its acquisition by JLL Partners. The price has since rebounded to $4.95 a share.

Febit to Help Create Biomarker Discovery Center in Heidelberg, Germany

Febit will help establish a Biomarker Discovery Center Heidelberg this month, a project recently awarded funding from the Excellence Cluster Initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The project is being funded as part of a €40 million ($51.6 million) grant to develop a biotech excellence cluster in the region of Rhine Neckar in Germany for the development of innovative drugs, diagnostics, and technologies in cellular and molecular biology.

As part of its contribution, Febit said last week that it will offer both array- and second-generation sequencing-based analysis to aid in the development and validation of novel biomarkers. The company will also work with the German Cancer Research Center on studies to identify markers for various cancer types and to develop these markers into standardized diagnostic assays.

Febit develops, produces and markets flexible automated solutions for enabling biochip applications.

The Scan

Alzheimer's Risk Gene Among Women

CNN reports that researchers have found that variants in MGMT contribute to Alzheimer's disease risk among women but not men.

Still Hanging Around

The Guardian writes that persistent pockets of SARS-CoV-2 in the body could contribute to long COVID.

Through a Little Spit

Enteric viruses like norovirus may also be transmitted through saliva, not just the fecal-oral route, according to New Scientist.

Nature Papers Present Method to Detect Full Transcriptome, Viruses Infecting Asgard Archaea, More

In Nature this week: VASA-seq approach to detect full transcriptome, analysis of viruses infecting Asgard archaea, and more.