Protecs Inc., a Plymouth Meeting company that has spent the last eight years converting offices into lab space for life science and tech firms, has set its sights on developing a new 74,000-square-foot building in Upper Merion.
The new structure will be built on nearly six acres at 3700 Horizon Drive and connected to an existing 21,800-square-foot building that Protecs turned into lab and office space. While the building will initially be marketed as a built-to-suit, Christopher DiPaolo, president and founder of Protecs, is confident that the space will lease up to multiple tenants if one big one doesn’t come along.
“We are seeing so much activity,” he said. “Throughout Covid, I’ve been busier with this than my other work.”
DiPaolo’s main line of business is a design and construction management firm that serves a variety of sectors but has a focus on pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device and other high-tech companies. He began Protec Innovation Centers as side business in 2012 after buying a building at 5100-5110 Campus Drive in Plymouth Meeting that once housed Genaera Corp., a now-defunct biotechnology company.
DiPaolo renovated the space and began leasing it to early-stage life sciences firms and other technology-related businesses. It became apparent that he was filling a void in the market and on the vanguard of what has blossomed into a growing niche area of real estate.
The cost of converting a building into R&D space is less than ground up development, which helps keep expenses down for these early stage companies. The space, which is ready for tenants to move in, also provides them with the ability to move in right away. Many companies he has recently been leasing to have been working on Covid research and therapies.
There are a growing number of companies that have financing backing, want their own labs and equipment and need between 2,500 and 25,000 square feet of space but the supply is lacking, he said. “We target the gap,” DiPaolo said.
For example, Iovance Biotherapeutics, which is having a new lab and manufacturing facility built for it at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, recently signed a lease on 3,000 square feet at 5110 Campus Drive.
Aside from Campus Drive in Plymouth Meeting and Horizon Drive in King of Prussia, Protecs also owns a 50,000-square-foot building at 512 Township Line Road in Blue Bell that is also been converted into one of its innovation centers. Between its three locations, the company has 120,000 square feet of office and lab space that will grow to roughly 200,000 square feet once the King of Prussia building is constructed. Rents range between $25 and $30 a square foot.
Its existing space is nearly full with 16 companies and just about 7,000 square feet of vacant space, keeping DiPaolo on the lookout for additional acquisitions.
At 512 Township Line, Protec recently leased 8,259 square feet to KorGene, a company that is developing targeted, molecular diagnostics, and is expanding. It also signed ThirdLaw Technologies to 4,808 square feet. It focuses on synthetic and computational chemistry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical devices.