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News & Announcements Baltimore: In Baltimore, a shortage of wet lab space poses an economic bottleneck

 For all that works in the local life sciences industry's favor, those in the know — including the execs, property developers and accelerator leaders that spoke to — believe this scarcity is stifling much-needed growth.

Shortly after the news dropped, Nick Fullenkamp began scouring for space to accommodate his team’s future.

Avidea Technologies, a Baltimore-born developer of immunotherapies, had been acquired in December in a splashy $40 million deal by high-profile UK biopharma firm Vaccitech. The 14-employee startup, since folded in as Vaccitech’s North American subsidiary, would be doubling in size and needed a true home base after the five years it spent growing in Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures’s (JHTV) FastForward 1812 incubator in East Baltimore.

Fullenkamp’s search led him up and down I-95. Staying in Baltimore was on the table in at least one space, but ultimately, a larger build-out allowance in Montgomery County and a landlord experienced with managing lab spaces were too enticing to pass up. While the exact location remains publicly unannounced until a lease is signed, Vaccitech US is set to move in early next year.

“There are hurdles with moving a company from Baltimore to Montgomery County, but we felt like it was worth the effort,” explained Fullenkamp, the former chief business officer for Avidea and Vaccitech’s current vice president of corporate development, to “There’s a lack of lab space everywhere, but there’s a lack of development and experienced landlords in Baltimore that are actively trying to convert offices to labs.”

For all of Baltimore’s economic challenges, life sciences have boomed here. That’s largely owed to its universities and a constant flow of investment in the industry — more than $700 million total in the last three years, according to the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. The region holds three of the country’s top life science-focused universities in Hopkins; University of Maryland, Baltimore; and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, each with its own successful incubators.

But Baltimore’s spatial blind spot emerges after the startups’ incubation stage. It’s a problem that keeps it from leveling up to compete with the likes of Cambridge, the Bay Area or even the nearby I-270 corridor: incubators and university-developed lab spaces are constantly at capacity, and there’s often nowhere for scaling-up companies to go. Private developers have yet to take up the task — and the financial risk — of building spaces to house startups that often slip away down I-95 or beyond.

“We’ve reached this interesting tipping point where there’s an overabundance of companies coming out of Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, and undersupply of physical space for those companies to occupy,” said Travis McCready­, executive director of US life sciences markets­ for brokerage firm JLL and a JHTV advisory board member. “As a result, effectively what we’ve done is transformed science and technology into an export product.”

Read the full story from Baltimore.