The growth of the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) and its position as a global biohealth cluster is a hot topic of discussion—often filtered through a broad, conceptual lens focused on big-picture trends, GEN publication rankings and widely discussed areas of industry need.
The development and growth of the BHCR is also a story that supports the life science boom in the region and is steeped in real estate development, communities of innovation, bricks and mortar, architectural plans, and construction management, as well as facility and lab design innovation.
Few can tell this story like Patricia Larrabee, President, and Founder of Maryland’s Facility Logix, a leading facility-consulting firm with more than 80 years of combined experience that’s focused exclusively on the life science industry. Facility Logix has provided novel facility design solutions and real estate construction and project management services to a myriad of BHCR companies and organizations, playing a critical role in the region’s ascension into one of the top life science hubs in the world.
In 2019 alone, Facility Logix has helped deliver $138M in cGMP facilities on the East Coast. In its history, the firm has helped deliver 675,000 square feet of cGMP space and $345M in project value, while partnering with 75 clients across its 15 years in business.
Larrabee founded the company in 2004. Prior to starting Facility Logix, Larrabee worked at Scheer Partners and played an important role in building out its biotech services group. During the development of this service offering, she saw clearly that the industry had a real need for skilled life science facility firms and consultants.
“When I founded the firm, I knew there was a need for specialized facility consulting services to the biotech industry; however, I didn’t imagine that the demand for our specialized consulting expertise and services would explode with the level of intensity it has in the last decade,” stated Larrabee.
The company has offered the same service lines since its inception, including owner representation and project management services, feasibility studies and innovative marketing solutions to life science companies seeking to expand their existing facilities or build a new facility from the ground up. Larrabee has found that while the services remain the same, the projects have become larger and more complex – not only in the BHCR, but throughout the country.
Facility Logix’s first client, a non-profit research foundation, required the firm to deploy all of its skills at once, providing an early test for the business model. Facility Logix was able to successfully deliver across all its service areas, marking the first step of an ongoing, successful 15-year journey.
“Our internal capabilities, team expertise, and our collective project experiential history allows us to bring these lessons learned to each new client. The quality and level of service we provide, particularly in our owner’s rep service offering, has certainly elevated itself over the last 15 years,” shared Larrabee.
Each team member at Facility Logix brings something to the table whether its construction management expertise, for example or Larrabee’s own deep background in biotech, which includes some 30 years of experience and time as a bench researcher.
“Our collective expertise, overlaid with more than 75 client partnerships, has allowed us to develop quite a background that helps us deliver that next, creative customized solution for our clients,” she added. For Larrabee and her team, it’s a bit more than that, however.
“The thing that gets me and our team so excited is learning about the therapeutics, products, and services these companies are developing and figuring out how Facility Logix can play its part in helping bring vital therapies to market, advance human potential, clean up the environment or feed the world more effectively…these are the things we get really excited about,” stated Larrabee.
Facility management and development plays an enormous role and can be a complicated factor for companies already facing daunting challenges that are inherent in the life science industry.
“More than any other industry, the level of investment required to bring a new therapeutic product to market is very significant with long timelines and tremendous risk. These facilities are very expensive to build and require at least 18 months and up to three or more years of lead time. Compliance and technologies are changing during the building process, and it’s imperative to hire a firm that is innovative and will deliver a facility that isn’t obsolete the minute the owner takes possession,” stated Larrabee.
Larrabee believes that factoring in flexibility and the ability to strategically pivot should the environment change is tremendously important when considering a facility expansion or greenfield build. This requires multiple scenario planning that considers immediate and longer-term risk factors. This multi-layered strategic plan must be agile enough to adjust the scope quickly to changing conditions and is critical to a project’s success, according to Larrabee.
This is where Facility Logix’s role as an owner representative is important. They are not beholden to the landlord, the commercial broker, the architect, the engineer, the contractor or other stakeholders; Facility Logix always keeps its client’s interests as the priority and acts as an extension of the client’s organization. Facility Logix typically works with large companies whose metrics are based on revenue per full-time employee and don’t want to invest in big infrastructure or small, emerging biotechs that don’t yet have the facility expertise on hand.
With Facility Logix’s roots in the BHCR and having played an integral role in the development of the region, Larrabee and her team have a unique perspective on the region’s past, its current challenges, and its future trajectory.
“Locally and regionally, critical mass is building in CAR-T and gene therapy expertise. This has been building over the last several years—just look at companies like REGENXBIO, Autolus, Kite, and others, for example, and the service provider network to this industry sub-sector. It might be the first instance where all of the real benefits of this region – in terms of linking federal labs to research labs and industry to the service providers – are starting to be realized. It’s a perfect storm as long as we can develop the facilities, remain ahead of the curve and innovate and develop the workforce (or attract new talent to the region) to sustain the momentum,” stated Larrabee.
“We are seeing more and more non-lab-savvy, non-traditional industry landlords and property owners looking to convert an existing office building or high-bay warehouse to meet the demand of the booming cell and gene therapy industry. If you look at Holladay Properties in Northern Virginia, for example, the firm is creating a single-story flex product built in a lab-ready form that makes it easier for lab tenants to occupy the space. This facility will be built immediately adjacent to the Prince William County Accelerator, which is already generating graduating companies,” she added.
Larrabee believes there is an opportunity to better harness the work in the federal labs by celebrating successes and failures and adopting a more entrepreneurial mindset. She cited Kite, whose parent company, Gilead, is located on the West Coast, moving to Frederick County, Maryland, and the UK’s Autolus planting roots in the BHCR, as signs of increasing BHCR brand awareness and its strengthening global reputation.
There are still challenges for the BHCR when competing with other major biohealth hubs like Boston/Cambridge, the Bay Area and other more geographically condensed clusters. The BHCR is geographically dispersed, unlike Cambridge, for example, where talent can move to the area confident that should they lose their job they would not have to relocate altogether.
“Most companies will pay more for space to be in a region where they can find the quality workforce they need. When you have a dense, urban cluster like Cambridge, it is understood that a company’s workforce needs will be met. They are willing to compete with a lot more companies, pay higher wages and spend more for their real estate for a deeper, more concentrated talent pool. If a more suburban cluster like the BHCR can provide the workforce, the lower price point pitch can work to bring companies here,” stated Larrabee. “That’s why the workforce development programs in the BHCR are so critical to the region’s development.
“Another challenge for the BHCR is the lack of greenfield land zoned for these kinds of facilities, particularly in Montgomery County. We are seeing the market expand out further along the 270 corridor, like Kite in Urbana, and up into Frederick County,” stated Larrabee. “In essence, the lack of greenfield land could further disperse the BHCR, exacerbating this challenge when compared to denser biohealth clusters.”
Despite these challenges, the BHCR has a lot to offer life science companies and Facility Logix remains highly active with facility expansions and ground-up development projects across the region. Larrabee points to Facility Logix’s recent owner representation partnership with United Therapeutics, and its current work on Eisai’s new manufacturing facility as signs of the BHCR’s continued growth and success.
And with a booming cell and gene therapy sub-cluster evolving right here in the region, Facility Logix will once again find itself playing a leading role in “creating, imagining and showcasing” the BHCR’s facilities now and into future.