Revisit our chat from August 2021 with Audrey Greenberg about the development of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines; the reasons for her excitement about the Philadelphia biocluster and the Cellicon Valley; and what's next for the Discovery Labs.
Welcome to LabNotes. I’m Joe Fetterman from Colliers Life Science Advisors and we have a great show today. I'm here with a really close friend, someone that we've been working together with for quite a long time, please welcome Audrey Greenberg, co-founder and executive managing director of the Discovery Labs and the Center for Breakthrough Medicines. Audrey, it’s great to have you here today.
Thanks for having me, Joe. So pleased to be on LabNotes.
This is long overdue, my goodness, there’s so much to talk about. Let’s start with the good news for the market. I mean we've been fortunate enough to work on a couple deals together, the Penn Gene Therapy Program and NeuExcell Therapeutics. And we're really excited that we've been able to complete those transactions with you at the Discovery Labs.
It’s been great to be able to accommodate the region with our million square feet in Innovation 411, the former GlaxoSmithKline research and development headquarters. We’re thrilled to know that we now have the University of Pennsylvania’s Gene Therapy Program moving in thanks to your hard work, as well as NeuExcell. So we're really forming a cell and gene therapy epicenter just outside of Philadelphia and Cellicon Valley.
Well, that's great news, and at the same time, I believe I have this right – the other tenant in your building there right now is the Center for Breakthrough Medicines?
Yeah, we have Wuxi Biologics, GlaxoSmithKline, the two deals you just mentioned and the Center for Breakthrough Medicines which we formed just over a year ago to really accommodate not only the capacity crunch that’s existing in manufacturing but also all the technological challenges that people have with scale-up manufacturing. We’re thrilled to bring over 700,000 square feet of GMP space for plasmid manufacturing, viral vector manufacturing, process development and cell-therapy processing to the Center for Breakthrough Medicines, located at Discovery Labs.
Let’s talk a little about your progress. I know the last time I was out there you've actually got space set up. Tell us what's happening there now and what lies ahead for the future.
Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve really done a good job of planning our space. We have our first set of process and analytical development labs online. We're doing work for clients now and we're working on bringing on our first set of GMP suites online next year. We're thrilled to bring that capacity to market and we do have our customers lined up for that space. There is a backlog but because of the amount of space we’re bringing online, we’ll be able to accommodate a lot of the market here and beyond.
So to pivot a little bit, you’ve recently completed a recent acquisition and are moving very quickly on that. Let's talk a little bit about The Inquirer publishing facility.
Yeah, so the Center for Breakthrough Medicines is our CMDO and our sister company, which everyone's familiar with, is the Discovery Labs. Altogether with the acquisition you just mentioned, it's 2.4 million square feet of life science real estate in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and it's expandable to 6.4 million square feet, really making it one of the largest privately-owned life science real estate clusters in the US. The acquisition of The Inquirer plant is our most recent one as you mentioned. It's a perfect building for conversion, a lot of conversions are happening from office or retail to life science right now, but this industrial– really the Philadelphia Inquirer printing building is being converted to biopharma manufacturing. The ceiling heights, the utilities, the loading docks, the floor loading capacity, some of the other physical features, and [the] location features of the building really make it perfect for biopharma manufacturing, so we're thrilled to bring it online. We can't get it online fast enough given the demand that’s out there in the marketplace but we're working hard at it.
Help us understand this – in terms of where the full trajectory of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines [is], will a large part of that be in the new building for manufacturing?
Not a large part of it but some of it will be there, right. So everything cell therapy tends to be smaller suite, smaller lab, viral vector will tend to take up larger floor plates and even at 2,000 liters need a higher ceiling height. So depending on the physical requirements of the space, we're really laying out strategically in terms of the need for that space and the capacity requirements. So yeah, some of the CBM Center for Breakthrough Medicines will be at the Inquirer Facility.
So I don't know how much you can say about this, but how do you stand in terms of your client list so far for the Center for Breakthrough Medicines?
Yeah, so the Center for Breakthrough Medicines has quite a robust pipeline. Like I said, we can't get the space online fast enough. You know, given that we’re a start-up CMDO, a lot of times this is an industry – as you know very well given your proximity to this industry – that it's really based on integrity and trust and track record. The fact that we have consolidated a team of over 70 life science professionals from around the world that have scaled successfully many manufacturing companies in the past, [we] really put together this all-star team. We're getting a lot of interest and we can’t accommodate it fast enough to be quite frank. So we’re furiously working to bring this space online, but we have a robust pipeline like I said of customers and clients from very early stage to late-stage commercial. So it's an interesting mix of small startups to mature companies.
Audrey, this whole period over the last two getting to be a little more than two years, you guys introduced the Discovery Labs at the Bio Conference in Philadelphia back in 2019. Nobody had an inkling that COVID was on its way at that time and it's been quite a journey. You yourself have become one of the active spokespersons for the cluster and we really appreciate all that you're doing for the Philadelphia cluster. It really is an exciting and dynamic time here. I'm curious if you can talk a little bit about the journey that you yourself have been on over this last two-plus years.
Yeah, thank you for recognizing my focus on it. It’s genuine! I have a heartfelt interest in Philadelphia. I went to school here twenty years ago at the University of Pennsylvania, where a lot of the technology, in terms of Carl June’s work on T-cell therapy and Dr. Jim Wilson's work on AAV gene therapy, a lot of the commercialized products are based on technology out of CHOP [Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia] and the University of Pennsylvania. I'm very passionate about the region and so it’s easy for me to sort of tell the story and sing the tale. I spent several years in West Philadelphia and it's changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and I love to see what it's become.
I just imagine how Philadelphia can continue to increase in the biocluster rankings, at one point going back several years, we were not even in the top ten, and now in some rankings, we’re in the top five in terms of eds and meds, life science talent, lab spaces coming online, and venture capital funding. We're just seeing exponential growth in all of those areas.
"I love the fact that we have 70,000 life sciences employees here, 10,000 of which have cell and gene therapy experience.
That is attractive for companies that are looking to establish operations here, or those that want to do business with our
CDMO, they know that we can attract and retain the right talent."
And outside of just the obvious sort of points in terms of being a life science cluster, in terms of all the attractive features as mentioned already, living here is fantastic and so it's been easy for us to recruit talent from around the world. I love having my family here! They’re an hour and a half to the beach, an hour and a half to the mountains, incredible activities just around in and around Philadelphia, great public and private schools. It's an easy place to live and a fantastic place to really establish your company and grow.
Well, based on everything you said, I see no reason why the Philadelphia cluster shouldn't be top three in the next three to five years. Beyond that, what’s next for your group? You guys have bold visions. What do you see coming down the pipeline next?
We’re continuing to grow our team. We're hiring everyday, we're working on business development activities and continuing to attract customers and tenants to our site and to our region. And then you know, really important to us is entering into strategic relationships that can create a manufacturing center of excellence. A lot of the cell and gene therapies are developed in academic labs on nascent technology that's not necessarily [a] repeatable scalable manufacturing process. So what we're working on it at the Center for Breakthrough Medicines is scale-up technology in the form of partnering with the equipment manufacturers, and those that are in the front lines of developing these therapies in terms of capsid engineering and plasma sequencing, to create a perfect product that's backed by analytical methods to prove its potency and effectiveness as it gets through the FDA approval process. So having the right technology, having the analytical methods to prove its effectiveness and potent and then having the right team to manufacture repeatedly over and over, backed by equipment that can do it in an automated fashion. So there's a lot of work to be done, this will happen obviously over a number of years into the future but we're really putting together the team to make it happen, so that we can have that manufacturing center of excellence.
Audrey, what an awesome snapshot of what’s happening in Upper Merion. It’s really a great story. Let’s plan to touch base in the next six months, twelve months and just track your progress. Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished to date and keep it coming.
Thank you so much Joe and back at you!