LabCentral, a biotech incubator that has hosted hundreds of startups in its shared lab spaces in Cambridge, is tripling its footprint with a new 100,000 square foot lab, office and manufacturing facility. The site, which opens at a time when lab leases are at high prices, can house 13 startups focused on making cutting-edge drugs, including cell and gene therapies.
The third and largest nonprofit space, dubbed LabCentral 238, officially opened last week at 238 Main St., a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-owned site that’s a short walk from a Kendall/MIT stop. MBTA Red Line.
The location combines the century-old clock tower building at the address with a new 12-story glass building. The LabCentral space spans the fourth and fifth floors of the combined buildings, and as far as the labs go, it’s anything but static. Common areas are adorned with a rainbow motif, and its halls house rotating art galleries.
LabCentral charges around $100,000 per month per private lab suite, depending on size. “It’s not cheap to be here, and we never wanted it to be cheap. We wanted it to be value for money,” said Dr. Johannes Fruehauf, co-founder and president of LabCentral. Companies have access to millions of dollars worth of shared equipment and services that they don’t have to set up themselves, he added.
More than 360 startups have rented space at LabCentral since it opened in 2013. The organization’s first location, in the historic Polaroid Building at 700 Main Street, was designed to help small biotech companies quickly lead their experiments using shared facilities and equipment – a cheaper and faster option than renting and equipping a private lab.
A second location, at 610 Main Street, opened in 2017 as a springboard for businesses that are growing but not quite ready to have a place of their own. The new facility, LabCentral 238, provides more space for companies that have already started designing drugs — often at a former LabCentral site — and now need to figure out how to make them.
The laboratories are equipped with equipment intended for companies developing cell and gene therapies, as well as complex drugs cultured by fermentation. “They can try devices from different manufacturers and see which one works best with their own product,” Fruehauf said.
Nearly 200 people from 11 biotech startups have already moved into LabCentral 238, each with their own private research suite, as well as access to shared labs. Many tenants have already raised multi-million dollar financing rounds or entered into partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies.
A resident start-up, Satellite Bio, raised $110 million earlier this year to develop a new type of therapy that could heal damaged organs when implanted in a patient. The implant, based on work by researchers at MIT and Boston University, is made from healthy cells entangled in a biodegradable gel.
“We have to join these materials together, so our manufacturing process is really important,” said Tom Lowery, chief technology officer. “The luxury of LabCentral is that we can focus on that and not have to think about anything else.”
Satellite, like many other startups on the site, has big ambitions to develop a new class of drugs that can be applied to many diseases. Tevard Biosciences, for example, is pioneering a new type of RNA therapy capable of overwriting genetic mutations and restoring missing proteins in diseases such as epilepsy. Another startup, Vedere Bio, is designing gene therapies that could help people with hereditary blindness regain sight, regardless of the genetic cause.
For these companies, figuring out how to manufacture these therapies in commercial quantities can be just as difficult as designing the therapies. “It’s important for companies to have a closer connection to this work and start proving that scaling is possible,” said Lyndsey Rissin, LabCentral 238 site manager.
Companies are not meant to stay in the facility indefinitely. “It’s a bit like teenagers going to university. You should get out of the cozy house, right? said Fruehauf. Most companies remained in the former LabCentral premises for about two years. “I expect them to move even faster here because these companies are on such a growth trajectory.”
The new site opens during a hot market for lab space. Property developers are planning new research buildings and converting empty offices into labs at a breakneck pace, and Fruehauf predicts that a “glut” of lab space “will drive down rental prices, or at least cap the meteoric growth. in the years to come.
“For a biotech entrepreneur, that’s great,” he said. But it also means LabCentral could face more competition to sign leases. LabCentral 238 was expected to cost between $30 million and $40 million, but expenses soared to $63 million at one point, Fruehauf said. The final bill was lower, but he would not disclose the exact amount.
Astellas Pharma, a Japanese drugmaker with a regenerative medicine subsidiary in Marlborough, said it would commit $12.5 million to the facility as a founding sponsor. This title comes with perks, including an on-site office giving the company a front-row seat to tracking the progress of startups that pass through the site. Astellas is part of the selection committee that decides which startups can join LabCentral 238.
Mike Luther, global head of research and evaluation, business development at Astellas Pharma, said in an email that more than half of the company’s drug pipeline comes from outside the company, it is therefore “essential for us to access innovation”.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency focused on creating life science jobs in the Commonwealth, is also a founding sponsor. Other sponsors include Waltham-based Thermo Fisher Scientific and Milford-based Waters Corporation, which are laboratory supplies and equipment companies.
LabCentral shares the building with Bayer’s new research center, gene editing company Beam Therapeutics and cell therapy company Bluerock Therapeutics.