Site work has begun on a biorepository being built at David Murdock’s 350-acre, $1.5 billion North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC, which will be developed by Laboratory Corporation of America and operated in partnership with Duke University’s Translational Medicine Institute as one of three new buildings set to start construction by the end of the year.
“It’s happening right now. They’re just doing some of the final surveying to start the foundation,” Andrew Conrad, the co-founder and chief scientific officer of the LabCorp-owned National Genetics Institute in Los Angeles, told BioRegion News last week.
The cost of the biorepository building has not been finalized, nor has the cost of the equipment it will contain, he said.
Conrad, who is also the chief science officer for the research campus, spoke eight days after LabCorp CEO David King told analysts that the company “will soon be breaking ground” on the biorepository project.
“This biorepository [and] our newly acquired Tandem Labs’ ability to do rapid biomarker identification are two critical components of our plan to create the most comprehensive companion diagnostic platform in the industry,” King said July 24 at a conference call with analysts to discuss LabCorp’s second-quarter earnings.
LabCorp’s reported that Q2 revenue rose 10 percent to $1.15 billion atop a 9-percent gain in testing volume. However, the company’s net earnings decreased 19 percent to $104.2 million from $128.7 million in the year-ago period on one-time restructuring and special charges.
In an interview last week, Conrad said the 45,000-square-foot biorepository will include approximately 40,000 square feet of storage space, large enough to hold more than 10 million specimens to be brought in by pharmaceutical companies.
The building will also include some 5,000 square feet of other uses, ranging from labs for DNA and RNA extraction toward the preservation of nucleic acids, as well as computer rooms, offices, and space for freezers and other equipment.
The biorepository will also serve as a key component to the Murdock-launched Measurement to Understand Reclassification of Disease of Cabarrus/Kannapolis Study — also known as MURDOCK — by controlling all of the specimens examined.
Launched last September with a $35 million gift from the namesake developer, the MURDOCK study is designed to develop new, and more effective, ways to fight cancer, liver disease, aging/arthritis, brain disorders, and heart disease. Researchers will focus on the onset and progression of the diseases by studying several years’ worth of health data from patients. They will also try to identify causes of the disorders in hopes of developing targeted treatment options.
The research campus is the brainchild of Murdock, the billionaire food and real estate magnate who announced plans in 2005 to redevelop into a life-sci park the former Cannon Mills (and later Pillowtex) Plant 1 in downtown Kannapolis, the onetime “City of Looms” located some 20 miles north of Charlotte.
Pillowtex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2000 and three years later shut down the textile mill, citing foreign competition and its inability to repay a $150 million loan. In 2004, Murdock acquired Plant 1 at auction, shelling out $4.25 million cash, plus $2.12 million converted into interest in a joint venture between Pillowtex and his Castle & Cooke real-estate development company.
Murdock razed the old household textile mill’s nearly 6 million square feet of buildings, shuttered since 2003, and in 2006 broke ground on the first phase of his North Carolina Research Campus, where an eventual 1 million square feet of laboratory and office space is planned.
“The idea is to make sure that [the biorepository] reliably stores a very, very good collection of samples for future analysis.”
Kannapolis’ City Council last year approved borrowing $168 million in tax increment finance bonds for the research campus, allowing the city to fund the construction of capital improvements using debt repaid from the incremental new taxes to be generated by the project.
The TIF financing angered some residents and groups who viewed it as an unwarranted tax break, while city officials deemed it an investment whose benefit to the city would include the 30,000 people, including 5,000 researchers, that the campus is projected to employ at full buildout.
A former owner of Cannon Mills from 1982 to 1985, Murdock remains the owner of Dole Food Company and Castle & Cooke, and also serves as chairman of NGI, which LabCorp acquired in 2000.
“This is an effort to make sure that we maintain valuable specimens in an effort to never lose the possibility of going back and determining important biomarkers and predictors to response to therapies,” Conrad said. “The idea is to make sure that it reliably stores a very, very good collection of samples for future analysis.”
The biorepository will employ 36 technicians, all new hires. LabCorp will occupy its new building, which is set for completion in early 2009, under “a long, long term lease,” Conrad added.
LabCorp first announced it would expand into the NC Research Campus in 2005, though at the time and into 2006, the company said it had yet to decide what sort of facility to build at the campus.
“As a premiere research institute was being built down here, in our backyard, we felt that being a part of it was critical for maintaining our scientific prowess, so we’ve always been involved in it,” Conrad recalled.
The biorepository will further a long-standing collaboration between LabCorp and Duke’s Translational Medicine Institute, which is housed at the research campus. Earlier this year, LabCorp licensed from Duke a blood-based assay for early detection of lung cancer. In 2006, LabCorp partnered with Duke to create the "Duke-LabCorp Scholars in Genomic Medicine" program to support studies into genomic-based clinical testing [See BRN
sister publication Biotech Transfer Week, Feb. 27].
LabCorp also sees the biorepository as enabling collaborations with the undisclosed pharmaceutical companies that will use the facility.
In addition, Conrad said, the biorepository will benefit researchers based at the campus’ new core laboratory building, which is close to completion. “If someone wants something analyzed, it’s fantastic to have the core lab so proximal,” he said. “It gives the core lab material to test, and vice versa.”
The 311,000-square-foot David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building — to be run by a public charity created and funded by the developer — will include equipment and facilities for research in bioinformatics, metabolomics, molecular genomics, and proteomics. It will also comprise a contract manufacturing biogenic facility, a 28,000-square-foot basement vivarium, and 80,000 square feet of specialized labs, including those for DNA sequencing, histochemistry, microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers.
Construction on the core lab is nearly complete.
“They’re just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” Conrad said. “Equipment is being moved in.”
Also close to completion is the Center for Agricultural Genetics, a two-building mini-campus that will house:
- The Fruit and Vegetable Science Institute, a branch of North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences charged with creating new genetically superior variations on its namesake foods;
- The Nutrition Research Institute, a branch of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health that studies how diet affects brain development and may prevent cancer, and how diet and activity may prevent obesity; and
- The Dole Research Institute, Dole Food’s think tank charged in part with promoting healthier eating, and generating research and marketing materials for the company’s fruits and vegetables.
An agricultural research station is also being built as part of the center that will oversee more than 45,000 square feet of greenhouses and additional land set aside for agricultural experiments.
The new biorepository will join two other facilities that will begin construction over the remainder of 2008 at the research campus. The developer will start work on a Medical Office Building to be anchored by two healthcare providers, NorthEast Medical and Cabarrus Family Medicine. LabCorp will also have a presence in the medical office building, which it will use as a venue for clinical lab testing.
“We see it as a central scientific center in North Carolina that’s going to be world class, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Conrad said.
Also set to start construction this fall is a 40,000-square-foot Biotechnology Training Center of the BioNetwork Program, which links the state’s community colleges offering biotech instruction.
Those buildings will start construction once the research campus completes the core lab building and the Center for Agricultural Genetics, Conrad said.
Combined, the three nearly completed buildings contain more than 600,000 square feet of lab space and have helped draw to the research campus more than 20 academic and commercial life-sci users. They include Duke, NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC A&T State University’s Center for Post Harvest Technologies, North Carolina Central University’s Metabolism Center, UNC-Charlotte’s Center for Bioinformatics, and UNC Greensboro’s Bioactive Institute.
Last month, the research campus announced that Sensory Spectrum had agreed to open laboratories and offices there. Founded in 1986, Sensory Spectrum is a management consulting firm developing consumer research using sensory methodology, for the food, beverage, ingredient, personal and oral health care, and nutrition industries.
Sensory Spectrum will occupy all of an 11,000-square-foot building that is being retrofitted for the company within the village portion of the research campus. Clyde Higgs, vice president of business development for the research campus, told BRN the deal was in the works “for close to 12 months,” but would not say if the company will lease or own that building.
“The end of 2008 is their target timeline for them to move into their facility,” Higgs said.
In a July 16 statement announcing the expansion, Sensory Spectrum said it will base between 20 and 35 sensory scientists, psychologists, technicians and administrative staffers in Kannapolis. The firm also cited its existing relationship with the UNC Nutrition Research Institute, a tenant at the research campus. The company sought new space with the goal of better serving its clients in the Southeast, Higgs said.
Sensory Spectrum’s Kannapolis-bound unit will be overseen by Judy Heylmun, the firm’s vice president for strategic business development, who will relocate to North Carolina from New Jersey.
“The value proposition of the campus is that you could be in this collaborative environment where you’ll have access to some of the best minds in academia and in industry, if you will,” Higgs said.