RTP: A Strong and Exciting Future

Dave's Note: This is a guest post from Ben Pattison and I couldn't be happier about it. I typically focus on downtown Durham, but RTP is such an important part of Durham and recent announcements in the region have been arriving fast and furious. Ben compiles the highlights here and demonstrates what a banner year RTP has had. It is also important to note that this was written before the recent announcement that Adverum Biotechnologies will invest $80 million into a new facility in Durham. The exact location doesn't appear to be disclosed, but the RTP area would be a good bet!

About the Author: Ben grew up in North Carolina and his family moved to the Triangle when he was in high school. He attended Wake Forest and worked in Durham for a year before spending the next decade in DC and Boston. He moved back to North Carolina with his now wife and Durham seemed like a perfect fit as a diverse, eclectic place with great food and activities. Ben is fascinated by following the development of the city and region as a whole.

Originally conceived in 1959, the Research Triangle Park (“RTP”) has long been known as a sleepy, borderline secretive innovation center with low-lying corporate campuses dotting 7,000 acres of pine forest. Large employers have come to view the region as a desirable expansion node thanks to its proximity to RDU airport, wealth of talent, presence of several major universities and friendly cost of living considerations. Indeed, industry leaders such as Cisco, Credit Suisse, Fidelity Investments and GlaxoSmithKline have built significant centers of employment in RTP. In recent years, an influx of talent, capital and companies, along with the realization of plans for true vertical development, has shaped an exciting new future for the park. In this post, we’ll explore this evolution and discuss how it contributes to Durham’s standing as a leading hub for life sciences, agtech and technology. 

In following recent developments, it is clear that RTP is once again living up to its reputation as a world-class research destination, this time with an eye to the future in cutting-edge segments such as gene therapy and agtech. Despite the challenges of the ongoing pandemic, 2020 has been one of the most eventful and exciting years on record for economic development in RTP. Here is a summary of the major projects (both planned and underway) that have been announced in the region over the last 12 months. 

A. Alexandria Center for Agtech + Land Acquisition

Alexandra Real Estate Equities (“ARE”) is a California-based REIT with ~$18B in assets. The firm focuses specifically on providing specialized office and laboratory space for life science companies and counts the Pfizer headquarters among its 290 properties and 39MM square feet of real estate. The firm historically has focused, naturally, on areas such as Boston, San Francisco and San Diego but in recent periods has made a major push into Durham. The first piece of the puzzle was the firm’s Center for Agtech, a leading innovation center being developed on the former Syngenta site near the intersection of Cornwallis and Miami. The first phase of 175k square feet was unveiled in April 2019 and the second phase of 160k square feet is currently under development. More recently, the firm made a big splash with its $590MM acquisition of 253 acres at the Parmer RTP campus. ARE has yet to comment specifically on its future plans but CEO Joel Marcus indicated on the firm’s Q3 earnings call that they have “…an important number…of existing tenants who’ve expressed interest in creating either expansion or new space down in Research Triangle”. The scale and dollar commitment are certainly noteworthy here and I expect we’ll be hearing more news from ARE soon.

B. Beam Therapeutics Expansion

This 3-year old Cambridge-based company relies on CRISPR gene editing technology to develop innovative new therapies. In August, the firm announced plans to build an $83MM, 100k square foot manufacturing facility which will create more than 200 jobs over 5 years. Alexandria shows up again here with the announcement in October that they would be the developer for the manufacturing facility.

C. GRAIL Expansion

Early cancer detection startup GRAIL Inc announced in June that it would invest $100MM in creating a new 200k square foot lab, office and warehouse space in RTP. The project is expected to create 400 new jobs over the course of the next 4 years. The new facility will be in the Park Point development which is bookended by Davis Drive and Miami Boulevard. 

D. New Eli Lilly Plant

The pharmaceutical giant announced in January that it would invest $475MM to build a new manufacturing facility to support production of its Type 2 diabetes treatments. The facility will be located at the Parmer RTP campus off TW Alexander and will ultimately add 462 new jobs by 2027. Eli Lilly previously operated a small lab in RTP from 1994-2004.

E. Duke University School of Medicine Expansion

Another major project slated for Parmer RTP, the research arm of the Duke University School of Medicine has leased 273k square feet and anticipates investing $100MM to build out a new campus there. Among the Duke teams relocating to RTP is the Duke Human Vaccine Institute which is leading programs to develop new flu vaccines. Thomas Denny, associate dean for Duke RTP administration, described the new campus as being dedicated to “…immunology, infectious diseases and emerging pathogens”. Sounds rather timely. 

F. BioAgilytix Expansion

Homegrown life science testing company BioAgilytix announced in October that it would invest $61.5MM in expanding its Durham HQ and adding 878 jobs to its operation here. The company was founded in Durham in 2008 and also operates laboratory locations in Cambridge, MA and Hamburg, Germany. Recruitment of major new companies usually gets much of the press but retention and growth of successful local companies is critically important to the ecosystem.

G. Q2 Solutions Expansion

Q2 (Q-squared) solutions is a clinical research organization originally formed as a joint venture between Quintiles and Quest Diagnostics. The firm announced in November 2019 that it would invest $73MM to build out a new precision medicine lab in Durham and would create 749 new jobs at the facility.

H. Hub RTP

The idea of creating a centralized hub that would deliver a true live/work/play experience in RTP has long transfixed the key players in the region. In September, that dream took a major step toward reality as construction started on Hub RTP, a $1.5B development situated on 44 acres at the intersection of Davis Drive and I-40. The project is slated to contain up to 2MM square feet of office, residential and retail space and 14 acres of green space. The original development plans appear to have evolved a bit, especially in light of the uncertainty around the future of work, but I expect this project to be a major catalyst for the region. 

I. Vaccine Gigafactory from Apiject

There are many exciting projects on this list but the proposed vaccine “gigafactory” from Apiject is certainly the most surprising and unexpected. The pre-filled syringe maker announced only weeks ago that it would invest an eye-popping $800MM to build a massive 1MM square foot facility on 185 acres off of Davis Drive. The project will create more than 650 jobs and will be capable of packaging up to 15 different drugs simultaneously at a rate of as many as 8MM pre-filled injectors per day at full scale. Importantly, supply chain issues are a non-factor as materials and supplies will be sourced entirely from NC. Construction of the project will be funded largely by a $590MM loan provided by the US International Development Finance Corporation. 

J. Taysha Gene Therapies Expansion

Another leading gene therapy, Dallas-based Taysha, announced in mid-December that it would invest $75MM in building a manufacturing facility and creating 200 new jobs in Durham.

All told, these projects represent many billions of dollars in investment and more than 3,500 high-paying new jobs in the region over the next several years. Perhaps more importantly, RTP is attracting world-class companies both small and large that are charting the course for the next several decades in critical fields such as life sciences and agtech. The reimagined Research Triangle Park, one that includes vertical development for the first time, takes on a bold new identity as it re-plants its flag as one of the premier research and development destinations in the country. The park surely figures to continue to be an important asset to Durham and a key driver of the region’s growth for the foreseeable future.

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