Wet Lab Space, Entrepreneur Support, Cement Chicago as Serious Biopharma Hotbed

Although Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, when it comes to its position as a premier biotechnology center, the second city ranks well below many other US locations. This is starting to change, however, as new businesses move into this heart of the BioMidwest Region.

Chicago and its mountain pass communities are home to a number of legacy companies, including AbbVie, Astellas, Abbott Biolabs, Horizon Therapeutics and Exicure.

In recent years, others have moved into the area, taking advantage of new wet lab spaces that have been or are being built, as well as lower-cost real estate options. John Conrad, president and CEO of the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization (iBIO), said BioSpace the region is “seeing exponential growth” in new business and a 33% increase in the talent pool.

Wet Lab Space Expansion

Conrad pointed to several projects in the area that have expanded wet lab space in recent years. These include the Fulton Labs and Portal Innovations facility designed to support startups. Fulton Labs is also home to iBIO.

Other recent wet lab expansions in the area include the 125,000-square-foot, five-story Lincoln Park building being developed by Sterling Bay. The facility includes state-of-the-art wet lab space and other facilities to house life science companies. Before the announcement of new facility called The Labsthere had not been a new wet lab space built in the city since 2012.

“The construction of the laboratory space is essential. We’ve added about 1 million square feet,” Conrad said, adding that the lab space is “at a fraction of the cost on either coast.”

Earlier this year, real estate firm Mark Goodman & Associates gated on 1.5 acre lot in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood that will become the site of a new 16-story life sciences facility. The property at 400 N. Elizabeth St. is billed as the “first purpose-built laboratory and research and development building in Chicago, designed to specifically accommodate the rapidly growing life sciences and biotechnology industry” .

Goodman said BioSpace the company is completing its marketing materials for potential tenants. Once a head tenant is secured, he said construction would begin on the facility. Goodman speculated that the anchor tenant will need to occupy no less than 150,000 square feet prior to construction, which he said is “a challenge in this market.” However, he hopes that such a tenant can be found quickly.

“I love this market. I want to see him succeed,” he said.

It’s these new sites that are attracting the attention of businesses outside the region, Conrad said. He explained that businesses, especially small businesses on the West and East Coasts who are worried about rising real estate costs, are looking to Illinois for possible relocation.

New businesses are setting up

Conrad pointed out Xeris Biopharmawho moved from Texas to Chicago in 2020, and Talis Biomedicalwhich arrived in the city from California in 2021. The two companies moved into spaces in Trammell Crow Co.’s Fulton Labs development.

The Chicago community “shares the same vision and passion for the potential that life sciences, healthcare, technology and innovation can have on society as a whole,” said Brian Coe, co -founder and former CEO of Talis, in a statement. statement Last year. This allows the company to tap into the “vast pool of talent that represents the city’s startup and innovation ecosystem,” he added.

Conrad agreed with Coe’s assessment.

“It’s really exciting for us. It shows right away that companies are watching this space,” he said. Without disclosing much, Conrad noted that a major pharmaceutical company was in conversation with iBIO about potential business development or partnerships in the region.

With its rich history, strong universities and multiple cultural attractions, Conrad said Chicago is an ideal place for companies to set up R&D facilities. He predicted that companies will continue to recognize this and consider the region in their business plans.

In addition to the development of the wet lab space by the development corporations, the state government has also thrown its weight and financial resources behind this effort.

In 2021, Governor JB Pritzker announced $15.4 million investment in a wet lab capital program which supports the development of eight new spaces across the state. The investment will fund $90 million in wet lab expansions in Illinois, the governor’s office announced.

2021 financing built on 9 million dollars pledged by the same office in 2020. The grants support the development of wet lab spaces, with projects at universities and in incubators. Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago received $2 million to support a building of its Innovation and Research Park site. This site includes space for researchers working on NIH-funded projects, as well as collaborations with industry partners.

Other Chicagoland recipients include Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) in Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and NuMat Technologies in Skokie.

Internal growth

Even as the additional wet lab space attracts the attention of business development officers outside of Illinois, other efforts to support entrepreneurship are encouraging the launch of new businesses from area universities.

It’s a reversal of the situation just a few years ago, when cutting-edge research from universities was licensed out to interests outside the state.

One such company is Vanqua Bio, which launched last year with $85 million in Series B funding. The startup is focused on developing next-generation drugs for neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and ALS. Vanqua’s technology platform is based on research led by Dimitri Krainc, chair of the Department of Neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Krainc Laboratory.

Conrad said universities are investing in the leadership and training of new entrepreneurs, which boosts the startup landscape.

Other startups include Oxalo Therapeutics, which is developing a therapy to safely remove oxalate from the body and prevent recurring kidney stones. Oxalo was launched with the help of an innovation fund at the University of Chicago.

The fund also supported the launch of Onchilles Pharma, a pre-clinical stage oncology company. In addition to this fund, Chicago also benefited from the establishment of a scholarship program by the Chicago Biomedical Consortium (CBC) which will support entrepreneurs.

Michelle Hoffmann, executive director of CBC, said at the time, “We believe this can grow and change Chicago’s biotech ecosystem.”

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