UCity’s new labs open for business
The higher rates are a sign of rising demand for high-quality lab space for hopeful biotech start-ups near Penn, CHOP, Drexel and the Wistar Institute,
The first tenants have moved into the new University City Science Center lab spaces at 3675 Market St., on the edge of the former University City High School complex, where developers hope success will spawn additional construction and what amounts to a new city center for medical tech companies.
There's still plenty of room. Managers are trying to lure a Fortune 500-sized tenant with ties to the big neighboring medical-research institutions for a big block of space in the building's upper floors, says Steve Zarrilli, the former Safeguard Scientifics chief who now runs the Science Center.
Maybe someone like Johnson & Johnson, whom Penn scientists are urging to upgrade its new JPOD meeting center into a full-fledged JLABS research-and-start-up center? Or Novartis, sponsor of Penn scientists' pioneering Kymriah T-cell cancer therapy start-up and other genomics efforts. Or maybe Regenxbio, Biogen, Genentech, or other bioscience companies that have shared Penn patents.
If Zarrilli and other insiders know which company has the inside lane for the space, they weren't telling me on a walk-through earlier this week, in advance of the grand opening with Mayor Kenney and other celebrities on Friday.
The space, replacing older labs at 3711 Market St. and 3624 Market St., is run by the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Innovation Center, which has similar sites in cities across the U.S.; this location is CIC Philadelphia. The lab operator, BioLabs, is also based in the Boston area. The center announced CIC would open the Philly center earlier this year, with memberships at $2,500 a month, about four times what the simpler labs charged — a sign of rising demand as made-in-West Philly gene therapies attract investors from China, Boston, and Silicon Valley, as well as $50 million earmarked for faculty start-ups in April by Penn's Board of Trustees.
CIC, which also has sites in St. Louis, Miami, and the Netherlands, is headed by Tim Rowe, partner in the Cambridge, Mass., and Reston, Va., venture capital firm New Atlantic Ventures. BioLabs is headed by Johannes Fruehauf, partner in BioInnovation Capital, of Boston.
CIC says there are 30 smaller tenants already signed up, including Panorama Medicine, which moved here from a WeWork location. Its Ph.D. founders, Mingfu Zhu, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia genomics professor Yi Xing (formerly of UCLA), and Douglas Black promise to "leverage their expertise in computing to accelerate drug discoveries using genomics."
Others include Backstage Capital, Brazen Philly, and Stimulus, which promote women and other nontraditional entrepreneurs.
The higher rates are a sign of rising demand for high-quality lab space by hopeful start-ups connected to CHOP, Drexel, and the Wistar Institute. Indeed, CIC's new open-plan labs resemble the entire floors of cooperative space in Wistar's gleaming facilities on Spruce Street four blocks to the south.
As with residential gentrification, the upgraded labs, services, and prices have the side effect of squeezing out humbler entrepreneurs. Brianna Wronko, a 2017 Penn grad whose nine-person start-up was among 19 companies forced to leave the old Science Center labs, said she's since located temporary space at Thomas Jefferson University.
Zarrilli says there's a "collective effort among Philadelphia institutions" to work with the city and arrange more space for these very-early-stage scientists.