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Bioparks bring golden opportunity to universities, life science firms

Kathleen Johnston Jarboe
Special to The Daily Record
October 5, 2007 12:00 PM

For SNBL Clinical Pharmacology Center Inc., opening an office at the University of Maryland BioPark in 2005 was all about location.

The building on the UM campus put the drug-testing company near professors and researchers it could collaborate with on clinical trials. Johns Hopkins University and several government science centers like the National Institutes of Health weren’t far away. And there were plenty of healthy subjects in the city to draw on for drug studies.

“The building is just a normal building. It is the location,” said Takeshi Yamakawa, former SNBL president and chief operating officer, about the rationale for the move.

For life science companies looking to lease space, the equipment and partnership opportunities offered by Baltimore’s research universities have become the most alluring draw of the UM BioPark.

Few companies can afford to house a bioinformatics lab, a health and human services library or a mass spectrometer. Not many companies have hundreds of pharmacy and medical researchers on hand either. But the BioPark puts tenants within walking distance of those tools and others at the school and gives them access to personnel who can help establish partnerships at the university.

Last year, UM generated close to $400 million in research revenue from government, foundation and private enterprise projects.

Some of those funds came from BioPark tenant Alba Therapeutics Corp. The biopharmaceutical company raised $40 million to license and pursue technology developed at the School of Medicine. With that technology, Alba is developing drugs to treat diabetes and celiac disease.

UM is one of many schools across the country that has sought to turn research strengths into revenue by building science parks near campus grounds. Other schools with similar efforts include Old Dominion University in Virginia, the University of Texas, Johns Hopkins University and the Illinois Institute of Technology, among others.

“[Tenants] like the idea of being able to have access to those [university] facilities,” said Matthew L. Seward, a leasing broker at Colliers Pinkard.

This summer, the UM BioPark completed its second building, housing 215,000 square feet of lab, office and conference center space. The complex offers many standards in research and development space: reinforced floors for heavy lab use, backup power, high-capacity Internet access, plumbing for wet labs, a 24-hour security desk and premium ventilation systems that constantly circulate air.

But the building also offers new whistles and bells for life science companies. It plans to offer 10,000 square feet of pre-built lab space for companies that need a spot to work immediately. It typically takes six to nine months to finish lease space for lab settings.

“Sometimes a company doesn’t want to wait that long,” said Jim Hughes, president of the UM BioPark. Hughes said he envisions the area divided into approximately six lab spaces that companies could use for about a year while permanent office space is built.