Can you tell us a little about your background and how it led you to co-founding The Discovery Labs?
My background is primarily in capital markets and transactions. I grew up professionally in public accounting and investment banking and then spent 10 years in private equity. As I matured professionally, I became increasingly motivated by triple-bottom line investing centered around not only generating a financial return but also having a social and environmental impact. When Brian O’Neill, who I knew through the private equity world, approached me about starting The Discovery Labs, I was extremely motivated by his vision of creating an ecosystem easing the path to commercialization for life changing and lifesaving medicines. The opportunity to positively impact patient lives drives me and our culture.
Our acquisition of the GlaxoSmithKline worldwide R&D headquarters facility in KOP fulfilled our vision to create a multi-user facility for a synergistic mix of life science companies. This unique hub leverages the pharma-grade infrastructure already in-place — saving precious capital for innovation rather than buildout.
We formed the Center for Breakthrough Medicines, a cell and gene therapy contract development and manufacturing organization, based on the Discovery Labs campus to provide much needed manufacturing capacity and analytical methods required for producing complex advanced therapies. The Center for Breakthrough Medicines now has a team of 50+ manufacturing experts from all over the world to help us bring the best and the brightest to solve many of the industry’s biggest challenges.
What motivated you to establish The Discovery Labs in King of Prussia?
We could have established The Discovery Labs anywhere in the world, but we did it in KOP for many reasons. One, the Philadelphia area is the birthplace of cell and gene therapy. The University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are the inventors of AAV gene therapy and T-cell therapy. That technology and these research institutions are incubating companies that are now establishing operations here in Cellicon Valley.
Two, Philadelphia has direct access to the best research institutions, and capital is flowing into the region. The Philly region has established hospital systems and patient populations in close proximity to an international airport with cold chain storage, and an amazing transportation infrastructure.
Third, and most importantly, Greater Philadelphia is perfect for talent attraction and retention. The industry has found a welcoming home here with more than 70,000+ Life Science employees, 10,000 of which have specific expertise in cell and gene therapy. The area attracts talent from around the world due to the great lifestyle in Greater Philadelphia. Our cost of living is generally lower than other Life Science clusters, and we have incredible public and private schools — especially here in KOP. There are also many recreational and outdoor activities, and amazing food, culture and history.
All of those things made this a logical place to birth this vision.
What kind of impact has the pandemic made on The Discovery Labs?
This has been a traumatic time for the health and wellbeing of the entire planet. We have many employees and family members who have been impacted by COVID-19, so that needs to be acknowledged first.
From a business perspective, it was an adjustment to work in a remote, virtual environment. But it has also been a time of tremendous growth and learning. All lights are shining upon the pharma industry now and people are seeing the value biotech innovations bring to the world. Pharma saved us from this pandemic, and this has brought attention to the value of medical innovation.
Supply chain disruptions and other bottlenecks arising from the pandemic have made it even more difficult to procure equipment. In the face of these challenges, science has never moved faster to develop life-saving vaccines, showing the world that we can do more when we take a total solutions approach to processes.
And when we look at the broader state of pharma, and non-COVID related innovation, we are working with medicines that can not only treat, but can potentially cure, disease. That is so impactful.
Throughout this time, our team worked to turn challenges into learning experiences and changed our approach to hiring, supply chain and partnering. We used virtual meetings, tours and interactions with companies and individuals from around the world which expanded our global reach and provided for increased efficiency. We are looking forward to returning to in-person events on a more frequent basis and continue to look ahead at what technologies will enable us to grow and maintain a competitive advantage.
What future development(s) at The Discovery Labs are you most looking forward to and why?
The biotech industry needs capacity, expertise and services, and the Discovery Labs and the Center for Breakthrough Medicines are here to support home grown success stories and attract global businesses to the KOP region. In additional to onboarding our first customers at the Center for Breakthrough Medicines, we have made great progress on leasing, with full occupancy at Innovation Renaissance and fabulous momentum at Innovation 411, the revamped former GSK site.
We are also developing new cGMP manufacturing facilities including the old Philadelphia Inquirer plant, which we’re calling Innovation 800. So, in addition to our 2.2 million square feet of existing space, we have the availability to build another 4-5 million square feet throughout all of our campuses.
What makes KOP a good fit for your employees and company culture?
There are so many amenities in the KOP area which make this location ideal for our corporate culture. That is why we are building the Discovery Labs—we want to see even more innovation here in KOP, and we are creating a hub where spontaneous interaction and collaboration will lead to better science.
KOP offers a great lifestyle for single people and families alike, with a quality public and private school system for now or the future. The real selling point of KOP is that it isn’t just what you see in place now, it is all of that and even more that’s being created for the future. This is a great time to be here.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving their company to KOP?
KOP is perfectly situated because a vast majority of companies in Greater Philadelphia are in the suburbs. We have this very synergistic “pharma belt” which is up and down the KOP 202 Corridor. KOP is at the heart of Cellicon Valley, and offers convenient access to Center City Philadelphia, Delaware and New Jersey.
If there was one thing you’d want the KOP community and beyond to know about The Discovery Labs, what would it be?
The Discovery Labs is a very unique ecosystem. There isn’t another company in the world that’s doing what we do. We are building a life science hub that delivers true flexibility for innovators in this space. Our partners can either build a custom facility from the ground up or partner with a quality CDMO, or even do both.
Also, we’re here for the community. As we grow, and the pandemic passes, we will increase our KOP community involvement. Our hope is to offer events and support so community members can witness our positive impact in person. We’re just so excited to be a part of the amazing community that is King of Prussia.
About The Discovery Labs
The Discovery Labs is located in the heart of the Cellicon Valley, where cell and gene therapy was invented. Conveniently located in King of Prussia, the site acts as a life science hub delivering a unique blend of industry-focused real estate and partnering programs with plans for complementary lifestyle elements including accommodations, dining, shopping and activities. Discovery Labs’ Innovation 411 and Innovation Renaissance buildings are part of a 1.6 million square foot campus consisting of 28 buildings on over 300 acres. The Center for Breakthrough Medicines is a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) integrated into the campus. The Center for Breakthrough Medicines is the industry’s first single-source solution CDMO with state-of-the art technology for early research and development through commercialization for cell & gene therapies. Overall, the site has up to 4 million square feet of expansion space with the ability to accommodate companies of all sizes from startup to large enterprise.
The Discovery Labs | 411 Swedeland Rd.