Charles Dickens’ opening line of A Tale of Two Cities—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—was evoked recently by the head of the nation’s largest life sciences real estate owner to describe the past year for the industry served by his real estate investment trust.

“With respect to the industry, 2020 is the ultimate paradox: The worst year of our lives, yet the greatest year ever for the life science industry,” Joel S. Marcus, Alexandria Real Estate Equities’ executive chairman and founder, told analysts February 2 after releasing fourth-quarter and full-year 2020 results. “[There’s] much work to do to rebuild businesses and lives so devastatingly impacted, and I would say, it’s going to take a good part of this decade to do that for many people who’ve been really so devastated.”

Yet the industry scramble to develop vaccines and drugs against COVID-19 and diagnostics for the virus also propelled the life sciences to record high venture capital of $23.5 billion in 626 deals in eight life sciences categories covered by GEN (biotechnology, disease diagnosis, drug delivery, drug development, drug discovery, drug manufacturing, pharmaceutical distribution and wholesale, and pharmaceuticals/drugs), according to the PwC/CB Insights quarterly MoneyTree™ Report. PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association recorded even more activity in the “biotech and pharma” category of $27.4 billion last year, up from $17.3 billion in 2019.

Judging from the numbers reported by the nation’s top U.S. clusters, 2020 saw record-high amounts of lab space and NIH funding, as well as record-high numbers of jobs and patents. Those highs are reflected in high regional numbers seen in GEN’s annual ranking of the nation’s top 10 biopharma clusters. GEN ranks regions based on five quantifiable criteria:

  • NIH funding—Taken from the publicly available NIH RePORT database, for the current federal fiscal year through March 1, plus all of fiscal year 2020, which ran from October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020.
  • Venture capital (VC) funding—Figures for all of 2019 and all of 2020. For some regions, figures were compiled through the publicly available PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree™ Report. For other regions where figures were not available from MoneyTree, figures were furnished to GEN by regional life sciences groups.
  • Patents—Based on the number of patents containing the word “biotechnology” awarded since 1976 in namesake cities and suburbs where key companies are located.
  • Lab space—Based on the highest total-size-of-market figure, in millions of square feet, furnished by any of several commercial real estate companies, including JLL (in its annual U.S. Life Sciences Outlook report for 2020), CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield, and Newmark.
  • Jobs—Based on figures furnished by regional life sciences groups, or where those figures do not exist, from JLL’s report. While job numbers are included in the rankings, less weight had to be given to job totals in regions where GENhas found widespread discrepancies in job figures.

This year’s rankings show the leading regional cluster maintaining its number-one position which it has held since the 2015 A-List—a year after GEN’s first top-10 list ranking U.S. regions. However, clusters 2–5 are nipping at its heels, and coming closer to the top than ever, thanks to playing on different strengths. Also since the 2019 A-List, the regions occupying positions #7 through #10 have all switched positions, with two regions gaining and two losing.

10. Chicagoland

Chicagoland ranks lowest in lab space, just 11th with 3.4 million square feet, but a series of planned developments is likely to improve that figure in coming years, starting with 423,454 square feet expected to open this year. That space is now being built by Trammel Crow at Fulton Labs, in Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood. Trammel Crow is partnering with life sciences entrepreneur, John Flavin, to launch Portal Innovations, a platform to seed-fund and accelerate life sciences, medical technology, and bioinformatics ventures.

Also interested in nurturing startups is Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who in December joined the state Department of Commerce in January to announce the $9 million Rebuild Illinois Wet Lab Capital Program, with the aim of expanding access to lab space to incubators, corporations, university researchers, and start-ups. Recipients must match the state funding.

More recently on February 18, Chicago’s Plan Commission approved the $3.8 billion first phase of a $7 billion, 100-acre mixed-use plan by local development group GRIT. That first phase includes the 500,000-square-foot Chicago ARC (Accelerate, Redesign, Collaborate) Innovation Building, designed entirely for a mix of life-sci users that include universities, healthcare providers, biopharmas, and startups in specialties that include precision medicine, big data, and artificial intelligence. ARC’s co-developers include Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. Another megaproject with life sciences space is “The 78,” a $7 billion, 62-acre mixed-use campus on Chicago’s South Loop by University of Illinois and Related Midwest.

In suburban Deerfield, IL, Horizon Therapeutics last year expanded into the former U.S. headquarters of Takeda Pharmaceutical, after buying the 70-acre site for $115 million. The Windy city and its suburbs rank highest in jobs, fifth with 87,918 according to iBio (Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization). The region ranks ninth in three other criteria: NIH funding (2,568 awards totaling $1.234 billion), patents (1,755), and VC funding ($989.57 million in 2019 and 2020).

9. Raleigh-Durham, NC (including Research Triangle Park, NC)

Regional life science stakeholders recently mourned the loss of Sam Taylor, who died February 21 of pancreatic cancer at age 64. Taylor founded the North Carolina Biosciences Organization (NCBIO), served as its president since 2006, and played a key role in growing life sciences statewide.

Happier news came March 4, with Biogen announcing a $200 million gene therapy manufacturing facility at Research Triangle Park, set to add 90 jobs to the company’s 1,900-person RTP workforce. Many of the region’s life sciences attractions and expansions have been gene and cell therapy facilities by Astellas Pharma-owned Audentes Therapeutics (Sanford, NC), bluebird bio (Durham), Novartis Gene Therapies (formerly AveXis; RTP), and Pfizer (Sanford), with manufacturing sites also planned by Eli Lilly (pharmaceuticals, RTP) and Grifols (blood plasma, Clayton, NC). In February, Durham-based Humacyte, whose Human Acellular Vessels (HAVs) apply bioengineered human tissue to treat diseases, went public last month at a market capitalization of $1.1 billion through via a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company), plus $175 million in PIPE (private investment in public equity) financing.

The region is losing a headquarters, as Raleigh-based contract research organization PRA Health Services is being acquired by Dublin-headquartered ICON for $12 billion. However, it may gain more jobs from United Therapeutics as it weighs whether to grow its U.S. manufacturing operations at RTP or in Maryland; the company considers RTP a co-headquarters site to Silver Spring, MD, where UT emerged in 1996.

Raleigh-Durham-RTP-Chapel Hill is fifth in NIH funding (2,803 awards totaling $2.308 billion), and eighth in lab space (11.4 million square feet according to JLL). But the region is 10th in patents (1,408), venture capital (approximately 70% of the state’s $1.103 billion in 2019 and 2020, or $772.1 million, according to the state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center)—and for now, jobs (39,588, according to JLL, though the biotech center tallies more than 67,000 statewide).

8. Seattle

After years of being sustained by top-flight universities and institutions, Seattle’s life sciences cluster has enjoyed good news lately from growing companies: Immune therapeutics developer Alpine Immune Sciences scored an up-to-$865 million collaboration with AbbVie last year, with plans later this year to launch a Phase II study of Alpine’s lead candidate, ALPN-101 for adults with active lupus. Seattle-based Sana Biotechnology, whose treatments are based on its engineered cells, raised approximately $675.6 million in gross proceeds last month through an IPO, less than a year after completing a VC financing of more than $700 million.

Also going public recently is Silverback Therapeutics, which is applying its ImmunoTAC platform to develop tissue-targeted drugs for cancer chronic viral infections, and other diseases. Silverback which raised approximately $277.7 million in gross proceeds in December, capping a year in which it collected $85 million in a Series C financing and $78.5 million in a Series B.

Seattle finished 2020-2021 with approximately $2.9 billion in VC in 2019 and 2020, jumping three notches to a tie for fifth (with Greater Philadelphia) from eighth in 2019, when its best showing was sixth in patents. Seattle also improved in NIH funding (sixth with 1,894 awards totaling $1.732 billion), but dipped to seventh in patents (2,336). The region ranked lower in lab space (ninth with 11.25 million square feet, according to Cushman & Wakefield) and 11th in jobs (35,914 as of 2019, according to statewide industry group Life Science Washington, which is working on a 2020 figure to be published in May).

As for Seattle’s institutions, The University of Washington last year opened its $230 million Hans Rosling Center for Population Health​, which has set for itself the ambitious goal of preventing the next pandemic. The Gates Foundation footed $210 million of the building’s cost, with another $15 million coming from Washington state.

7. Greater Philadelphia

The “City of Brotherly Love” and its suburbs emphasize their concentration of companies and institutions focused on cell and gene therapy (CGT), with good reason. As of 2020, Greater Philadelphia was home to 36 CGT companies, pioneering researchers, and a CGT workforce of approximately 4,900 that could grow by up to 11,274 in 10 years, according to a report by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s regional CEO Council for Growth, the University City Science Center, and University City District’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

CGT growth helps explain why the region has > 1 million square feet of new lab space under construction. In Philadelphia, Brandywine Realty Trust is building the 14-acre, $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards campus across from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. Also in Philly is One uCity Square, a $280 million, 400,000-square-foot 13-story lab-office building being developed by Wexford Science & Technology with University City Science Center and Ventas—one of four projects totaling 1.35 million square feet and $750 million taking shape at uCity Square.

In King of Prussia, PA, a former GlaxoSmithKline R&D site and adjacent parcels have been transformed into The Discovery Labs, whose three components comprise a “one-stop shop” for CGT development. MRA Group is bringing the 600,000-square-foot Spring House Innovation Park to life in Lower Gwynedd Township, while in Doylestown, PA, the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center is constructing a $19 million, 15,000-square-foot lab building.

Greater Philadelphia ranks highest in both lab space (fifth with 23.37 million square feet, according to Colliers) and VC (tied for fifth with Seattle at about $2.9 billion, according to Dealforma—with $1.6 billion going to CGT companies, says Select Greater Philadelphia Council, a regional business attraction organization). The region places sixth in patents (5,148), and eighth in both NIH funding (2,991 awards totaling $1.48 billion), and jobs (69,565 according to JLL and Select Greater Philadelphia).

6. Los Angeles / Orange County, CA

The first day of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 lockdown, March 16, 2020, was also the day David J. Whelan joined regional industry group BioscienceLA as CEO: “I could not think of a more exciting time to be leading the growth of a vibrant ecosystem that will create new opportunities for all,” Whelan told ShoutoutLA in January.

BioscienceLA isn’t the region’s only life sciences champion. Last fall, the public-private Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC), statewide life sciences industry group Biocom, the Center for a Competitive Workforce, and the Office of “City of Angels” Mayor Eric Garcetti partnered to launch “WhyLALifeScience,” an online database designed to promote the region’s life sciences strengths.

The region has several research anchors ranging from Cedars-Sinai to The Lundquist Institute (TLI)—which on March 8 partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to out-license TLI intellectual property covering a synthetic lung surfactant formulation, to be developed for respiratory distress syndrome for premature infants in low- and middle-Income countries. Bolstering LA/Orange’s funding base is Westlake Village Partners, which in December raised two new funds totaling $500 million.

Thousand Oaks, CA, remains home to the region’s largest biopharma Amgen with 24,300 staffers as of December 31, 2020 (up 900 employees or 3.8% from a year earlier)—and is home to two HATCHspaces® life sciences sites developed with Chicago-based Singerman Real Estate, a 50,000-square-foot small molecule manufacturing facility purchased from Amgen in October, and a 120,000-square-foot space.

LA/Orange leads the nation in life sciences jobs with 173,503 in 2019, according to Biocom data released last year, though LAEDC placed the number at 195,000 in December. The region is seventh in both lab space (more than 12.8 million square feet, CBRE reported in October) and NIH funding (2,449 awards totaling $1.535 billion), and eighth in both patents (1,876) and VC ($1.425 billion for 2019 and 2020, according to BioscienceLA).

5. San Diego

San Diego’s Pacific coastline is among reasons it calls itself “America’s Finest City.” And if IQHQ has its way, that ocean view would be enjoyed by life sciences users occupying five buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet planned by the developer for the Manchester Pacific Gateway site, 12 acres south of Broadway between Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive. IQHQ, led by former BioMed Realty CEO Alan Gold, purchased 8+ acres of the site from Manchester Financial Group in September for an undisclosed price toward development of its “Research and Development District (RaDD).”

Developers aren’t the only ones thinking bigger: Maravai LifeSciences grossed $1.863 billion when it went public in November, capping a year that saw the company and its TriLink Biotechnologies move to expanded space within San Diego, with TriLink completing its cGMP space in January. MilliporeSigma in April revealed plans for a $110 million second viral vector facility in Carlsbad, CA. Other companies, however, have returned sizeable spaces to market for subleasing, including sequencing giant Illumina (75,000 square feet).

San Diego fared best in VC (third with $4.794 billion in 2019 and 2020), helped by the $750 million Series B financing completed in November by La Jolla-based Resilience, a provider of biopharma manufacturing services that emerged from stealth mode with more than $800 million in capital.

The region anchored by the “Plymouth of the West” also ranked fourth in patents (5,973), thanks to its strong base of universities led by University of California, San Diego, and numerous research institutions. San Diego is sixth in lab space (23.3 million square feet, according to Newmark), but ranks lower in jobs (seventh with 71,626 according to JLL, though statewide life sciences industry group BIOCOM counted 68,063) and 10th in NIH funding (2,118 awards totaling $1.162 billion).

4. BioHealth Capital Region [Maryland/Virginia/Washington, D.C.]

Well before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the world, the Maryland/Virginia/Washington, DC “BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR)” had the building blocks of a region well-positioned against infectious disease. Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University received nearly half the region’s total NIH basic research funding. In Gaithersburg, MD, COVID-19-focused vaccine developers with substantial operations include AstraZeneca, Emergent BioSolutions—and Novavax, whose expansion plans were announced during a visit by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Larry Hogan chats with Gale Smith, PhD, Novavax
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan [2d from left] chats with Gale Smith, PhD, Novavax Discovery and Preclinical Research and Chief Scientist, during a tour of the company’s Gaithersburg, MD, facilities. [Office of Governor Larry Hogan]
Bethesda, MD, is home to the FDA and NIH—and its National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, whose director led by Anthony S. Fauci, MD. Northern Virginia will soon be home to Drugviu, developer of a real-world evidence and patient-reported outcomes platform for immunological research, which is moving from New York City. In Richmond, VA, Phlow won up to $812 million over 10 years from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in May toward manufacturing generic COVID-19 therapeutics. BHCR companies racked up more than $5.8 billion in awards from BARDA toward COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.Ceres Nanosciences of Manassas, VA, plans to add 50 jobs by increasing its manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 testing, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said March 3. Gene therapy developer Vigene Biosciences said it will more than triple its 125-person staff by adding 245 employees as it doubles its manufacturing footprint in Rockville, MD, where the company last year opened its HQ, R&D, and manufacturing sites.BHCR is 60% toward its goal of becoming a top-three cluster by 2023. The region is already third in NIH funding (4,051 awards totaling just over $3 billion), patents (6,015) and lab space (29.7 million square feet, according to JLL)—with almost 3 million new square feet under development or planned. The region places sixth in jobs (74,542 as of March, according to JLL), and seventh in venture capital ($1.677 billion, according to Crunchbase, GlobalData, and JLL).
3. New York / New Jersey

New York City enjoys a growing pipeline of life sciences development projects, with 1.1 million square feet to be built through 2021, on top of some 850,000 square feet completed since early 2019, according to CBRE.

“Cure” lab-space building
In New York City, Deerfield Management is carrying out a $635 million conversion of 345 Park Avenue South into the approximately 300,000-square-foot “Cure” lab-space building. [Deerfield Management]
Projects include Deerfield Management’s $635 million conversion of 345 Park Avenue South into the approximately 300,000-square-foot “Cure” lab-space building, while Taconic Partners and Nuveen Real Estate in October announced plans to convert 125 West End Avenue into a 400,000-square-foot life sciences building. By 2022, Alexandria Real Estate Equities is set to complete a 550,000-square-foot third building at its Alexandria Center for Life Science on Manhattan’s East Side, expanding the campus to 1.3 million square feet, while in December it completed 17,716 square feet across the East River in Long Island City.The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, inked a 165,000-square-foot lease March 5 at The Georgetown Co.’s 787 11th Avenue, redeveloped for lab use on Manhattan’s West Side. Across the Hudson River, public-private New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) has facilitated large-scale redevelopment projects by creating the Brownfields Loan Program, designed to issue low-interest loans of up to $5 million toward assessment, investigation, and demolition. Also in the Garden State, Morris Plains, NJ-based Immunomedics was acquired by Gilead Sciences for approximately $21 billion, in a deal completed in October.In New York’s Westchester County, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has proposed adding 200,000 square feet of lab space to its Tarrytown, NY, headquarters campus. Biosciences is one of four “key” sectors to which Westchester has committed to growing through its new economic plan, announced March 8 by county director of economic development Brigitte Gibbons.

New York/New Jersey is second in both jobs (152,162 according to JLL) and NIH funding (6,164 awards totaling $3.308 billion). The region ranks fourth in both lab space (24.7 million square feet, according to JLL) and VC ($3.773 billion), and places fifth in patents (5,332).

2. San Francisco Bay Area

A recent newspaper article detailed how COVID-19 reshaped San Francisco, as reflected in new uses for the streets of “The City.” The pandemic also brought new life to the Bay Area, helping it come closer than ever to recapturing the top spot that it held in GEN’s first U.S. cluster list in 2014.

San Francisco Gateway Sign
Genentech is the largest of more than 200 biotech companies within South San Francisco, and accounts for more than 40% of the city’s total approximately 11.5 million square feet of biopharma building space. [South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce]
The Bay Area improved in four of the five criteria since GEN’s last list in 2019, climbing from fourth to third in jobs (145,235, according to statewide life sciences industry group BIOCOM), and from third to second in lab space (33.1 million square feet, according to Cushman & Wakefield). San Francisco and suburbs lead the nation in patents (12,777) and VC ($10.749 billion in 2019 and 2020), while the Bay Area remained fourth in NIH funding (4,748 awards totaling $2.474 billion). The largest VC award was the $493 million Series C completed in April 2020 by Lyell Immunopharma, a developer of cell-based immunotherapies for any cancer, with a focus on CAR-Ts and solid tumors.Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, won approval from the City Council of South San Francisco, CA, in November for a near-doubling of space at its headquarters campus at One DNA Way, to 9 million square feet from 4.7 million. That could enable up to 12,550 more employees in addition to the roughly 10,000 based there in 2020.

Several of the region’s companies found buyers willing to pay billions for them: Nestlé Health Science shelled out about $2.6 billion for Brisbane, CA-based Aimmune Therapeutics, developer of an FDA-approved children’s peanut allergy treatment, while Alexion Pharmaceuticals snapped up South SF-based Portola Pharmaceuticals for $1.4 billion. However, Menlo Park, CA-based cancer liquid biopsy developer GRAIL’s planned $8 billion purchase by Illumina is still in the works and set to close this year.

1. Boston / Cambridge, MA

Boston/Cambridge remains the nation’s top biopharma cluster, thanks to number-one rankings in NIH funding (6,552 awards totaling $3.711 billion), reflecting its critical mass of world-class universities and research institutions; and lab space (35.2 million square feet, according to CBRE), reflecting a wave of corporate activity.

The region is second in patents (9,099) and VC ($10.113 billion in 2019 and 2020)—though Massachusetts finished 2020 with a record-high $5.8 billion, according to a report released March 4 by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio). Winning the state’s largest VC award was Boston-based Atea Pharmaceuticals, which garnered $215 million in Series D financing in May and is partnering with Roche to develop COVID-19 antiviral candidate AT-527. Boston/Cambridge ranked lowest in jobs (fourth with 115,942, according to JLL), though MassBio recorded 79,972 statewide jobs in 2019).

San Francisco’s DivcoWest signed Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) to a 360,000-square-foot lease at 250 Water Street within its Cambridge Crossing campus, set for completion in 2022. Sanofi sold its 310,000-square-foot plant built by its Genzyme subsidiary in Boston’s Allston section to Resilience, a La Jolla, CA-based provider of biopharma manufacturing services, which has offered jobs to all 250 staffers and plans to add headcount. LA-based Breakthrough Properties inked a 263,500-square-foot lease with CRISPR Therapeutics at 105 West First Street (“The 105”), also opening in 2022.

BioMed Realty Assembly Square
Just north of Cambridge in Somerville, MA, BioMed Realty acquired an existing 162,000-square-foot office building and adjacent 7.5-acre site at Assembly Square, with plans for a 1.3 million-square-foot campus for research, technology, and life-sci users. [BioMed Realty]
Interest from top life sciences developers intensified in January: Alexandria Real Estate Equities shelled out $1.48 billion for office/R&D building 401 Park Drive, an office/lab building under construction (201 Brookline Avenue), and a future development site, all in Boston’s Fenway section near Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox baseball team. Alexandria envisions a 1.8 million-square-foot “collaborative” life sciences campus with retail and common areas. Just north of Cambridge in Somerville, MA, BioMed Realty acquired an existing 162,000-square-foot office building and adjacent 7.5-acre site at Assembly Square, with plans for a 1.3 million-square-foot campus for research, technology, and life sciences users.