Cancer-therapy firm Iovance Biotherapeutics Inc. plans to open a sprawling office and laboratory complex in South Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, adding to the city’s growing clout as a biotechnology research-and-development hub.
Iovance, which specializes in the development and commercialization of cancer immunotherapies using cells known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, will occupy a three-story, 136,000-square-foot building that will span about a block of the Navy Yard’s core business and research park.
The San Carlos, Calif.-based firm joins current Navy Yard occupants Adaptimmune Therapeutics PLC and WuXi AppTec Co., as well as Spark Therapeutics Inc. in University City, in selecting Philadelphia to develop and manufacture high-tech therapies for what have been mostly irremediable conditions.
Iovance president and chief executive Maria Fardis said in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s announcement that Philadelphia was chosen for the project in part because of its deep talent pool, fed by institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania.
"We know there are certainly trained employees in the region who have worked in cell therapy and have deep roots in cell therapy," she said.
Work on the roughly $125 million facility at 300 Rouse Blvd., just south of the Navy Yard’s Central Green landscaped recreational space, is expected to begin as soon as next month and is scheduled to last about two years. Some of a planned $75 million investment at the site by Iovance will go toward those construction costs.
The project is the first to be undertaken by Gattuso Development Partners, a new firm spearheaded by John Gattuso, who had led work on most of the Navy Yard Corporate Center’s existing office and lab buildings as regional director of Wayne-based developer Liberty Property Trust.
The project is “a really great way to kick off our new venture and also continues the momentum at the Navy Yard and continues to reaffirm Philadelphia as a major center for this new, very important industry,” Gattuso said.
Iovance plans to use the new facility to manufacture its tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte-based treatments, which use patients’ own cancer-inflicted cells to produce personalized therapies.
Clinical trials involving patients with advanced melanoma are ongoing, putting the company on a path to begin marketing the therapy in about a year and a half, Fardis said. It is also conducting trials for an advanced cervical cancer treatment while devising therapies for other cancers.
The firm plans to employ “several hundred” at the Navy Yard facility, producing treatments for thousands of patients around the world, Fardis said.
The Navy Yard was seen as a prime location for its production labs because of its highway access and proximity to Philadelphia International Airport, allowing afflicted cells to quickly reach the facility and treatments to be speedily sent to patients, she said.
“This product, being a cell therapy, it really is very personalized: Every patient is a separate batch,” she said. “The logistics of the facility were important.”
The Navy Yard was also chosen because of the tax advantages that come from being within a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which can qualify companies for city and state tax breaks, as well as other financial incentives.
Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) president John Grady said Iovance is receiving a $1 million loan from the city that is to be forgiven if job-creation goals are met after five years and a $3 million low-interest loan to finance capital investments.
The Navy Yard Corporate Center section is home to such companies as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline PLC and investment bank FS Investment Solutions LLC, as well as Adaptimmune and WuXi AppTec.
WuXi produces cancer treatments as a contractor for Iovance and will continue to do so until its own Navy Yard facility is up and running, Fardis said.
Liberty Property Trust announced last year that it was getting out of the office-building business to focus on industrial projects, but continues to hold development rights to an approximately 100-acre section of the Navy Yard that includes the Corporate Center through a deal with PIDC, which manages the publicly owned property on the city’s behalf.
PIDC has approved the Iovance site’s transfer from Liberty to Gattuso as a one-off project, but plans to soon begin seeking a new master developer for the remaining Navy Yard acreage that Liberty will be relinquishing as part of its pivot to industrial properties, Grady said.
Gattuso said his deal with Liberty for the Iovance site includes reimbursing the property trust for its past expenditures preparing it for development.
Gattuso’s new venture also includes former Liberty vice president Anne Cummins, who joins the firm as chief operating officer. The Iovance project is being completed with landscape architecture and infrastructure firm Synterra Ltd., which had partnered with Liberty on previous Navy Yard projects, and Phoenix-based developer Ensemble Investments LLC, which built the Navy Yard’s Courtyard by Marriott hotel.
“We are thrilled that the Gattuso firm, which includes several of our friends and former colleagues, will be developing this important new facility,” Liberty chairman and chief executive William P. Hankowsky said in a statement. “We wish the Gattuso team continued success moving forward.”