For years, the common wisdom, or hope, was that Oregon’s biotech industry was about to take flight.
Watch out, Boston, Seattle and Bay Area.
Oregon’s biotech sector still has a long way to go to reach the level of those hubs, but the state is definitely making major strides and laying the groundwork for much more.
The latest positive sign is Genentech’s announcement last week that it planned a $125 million expansion. The drug maker’s sterile production operation in Hillsboro is expected to add 100 employees, taking it to 500 over the next five years.
“It’s great having that expansion of jobs. It’s even better because it’s the result of a company that probably re-evaluated the entire original decision” to move to Oregon, said Dennis McNannay, executive director of the Oregon Bioscience Association. “Someone with the resources of Roche/Genentech is a good indicator.”
Genentech is based in South San Francisco, but elected to move its fill/finish facility to Oregon in 2008, just down the road from Intel Corp.
McNannay said he’s received much more interest from companies outside of Oregon in moving to the Portland area. Two of the “top 10” biopharmaceutical companies have sent leadership teams to assess the scene.
“In my tenure, I’ve never had as much in-bound interest,” he said.
Jennifer Fox, executive director of the Oregon Translational Research and Development Institute, which manages a bioscience incubator on Southwest Macadam Avenue, also has seen increased inquiries.
The incubator recently expanded to 17,000 square feet, but Fox said she could fill 30,000 to 40,000 square feet. OTRADI also opened a small incubator in Corvallis and may do a co-working space at OSU Cascades in Bend.
The current interest is an outgrowth of a variety of forces. There’s the buzz around Oregon Health & Science University’s $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge, which will bring world-class cancer, genomics and bio-informatics researchers and their labs to town.
There’s also the cost of doing business in Portland vs. the aforementioned hotbeds of biotech.
McNannay likes to take out-of-town visitors to the east side of the Willamette River, where they can get a view of OHSU’s sparkling new Collaborative Life Sciences Building. Then they have a look at the southeast industrial area.
“I show them just how affordable the inner southeast quadrant is,” McNannay said. “There’s no place on the West Coast where you can have access to light rail, an urban renewal area, the downtown core and a world class cancer facility all within a mile and a half.”
It costs about $35 a square foot to build a facility in that area, 40 percent less than Seattle and a third of what it would cost in San Francisco, McNannay said. Wages are also 25 to 30 percent less than the Bay Area.
There’s also growing recognition about the long-term nature of a biotech enterprise, which can take years to obtain patents and go through clinical trials. That’s where quality of life comes in.
“It becomes more and more important that you like where you’re at,” he said.
Portland Business Journal