Collaboration center to add new building
As the Texas Life-sciences Collaboration Center begins construction on its second building, the possibility that life-saving medical technologies and therapies could be manufactured in Georgetown is becoming a reality.
The biotechnology accelerator, located at 111 Cooperative Way in southern Georgetown, broke ground on a new 15,000-square-foot building in June.
“[This building is] a very, very important step in retaining a company that will deliver real value to Georgetown in terms of a workforce that is generating high wages for taxes and spending those dollars here in Georgetown. These are not minimum-wage jobs but high-wage jobs that are created through the expansion and development of these companies in this kind of space,” TLCC Executive Director Michael Douglas said. “Bio manufacturing is … one of those [industries] where we hope to create a critical mass in this area to attract other companies.”
The building will be occupied partly by existing TLCC member company DisperSol Technologies, which is developing a method to compound water-soluble molecules with molecules from nonwater-soluble medicines to allow patients to take the medications orally.
“The molecules that are being discovered by pharmaceutical companies … are trending toward very poor water solubility. So when these drugs are taken orally … they are so insoluble that they won’t dissolve in your gastrointestinal fluids, and if they don’t dissolve, they can’t be absorbed, and they can’t have their therapeutic effect,” said Dave Miller, vice president of research and development at DisperSol. “We are in the business of enabling new drug molecules [to be absorbed]. We work with the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world to make the new compounds they are discovering into viable medicines.”
The company is currently working with drugs to treat a variety of cancers, hepatitis C, inflammation and central nervous system disorders, Miller said.
Douglas said because DisperSol is moving into clinical stages, there is a need for additional space.
“The neat part about it is TLCC is 15,000 square feet. That has now effectively been filled up. That’s what caused the next building to be kicked off with a ground breaking,” Georgetown Economic Development Director Mark Thomas said. “There is a demand, not only from new companies we are talking to, but also from existing companies that are growing very rapidly.”
Without the additional space, Miller said DisperSol would have had to leave the TLCC to find adequate space for its expansion. The company moved into the center with three full-time employees and one part-time employee in April 2012 and now has 11 full-time employees with the need for more, he said.
“We desperately need the new building because in our current space at the TLCC, we are very limited in terms of our manufacturing space,” Miller said. “We need the next building to take us into the next phase of our business growth—getting into Phase 3 [clinical testing] and commercial drug product manufacturing. We desperately need the new building, and we need it very fast.”
Miller said DisperSol has several different products in different phases of clinical study.
“This is essential to the continuation of our growth,” he said. “We need this space as soon as possible.”
Douglas said the building could be completed by mid-February.
Douglas said upon completion of the building, TLCC will seek a Good Manufacturing Practices certification for the building from the Food and Drug Administration, meaning the FDA could approve the building’s use for pharmaceutical manufacturing.
“If we can’t document that we can make [that product] in a reproducible way and in very well-controlled, sterile conditions, then it can’t be used for clinical studies, so [the designation is] essential,” Douglas said. “The fact that we aren’t near a large biomedical research enterprise and we have [this new] space is really quite significant, actually, for the city of Georgetown.”
Douglas said once approved by the FDA, each company using the space will be required to maintain the agency’s standards.
Possible research park
Douglas said while construction moves forward on the center’s second building, discussions are already underway for a third building and the creation of a research park that could be built on property east of Snead Drive.
Thomas said the goal is to continue to bring companies to the research park, which could include TLCC member companies and other biomedical and life-science companies.
“Planning is now on how to do that, how to maintain the focus of the property so that it isn’t a hodgepodge of a whole lot of things, but that it is oriented to biotechnology because there is a value to the clustering [of those businesses],” Thomas said. “We do know that the companies like to be together. They would like for the park to have similar-type uses so you don’t have a huge diversity of types of companies.”
Douglas said the city could also build a spec building with additional wet lab space that could be used to help attract new businesses, Douglas said.
City Council approved an agreement with Radiation Detection Co. at its July 23 meeting that makes the company the first to relocate to the research park, Thomas said.
Council also approved a $150,000 agreement for the center that will help fund operations and staffing for the center’s management, he said.
“Radiation Detection Co., without a formal plan in place [for the park], becomes the first occupant of that research park,” Thomas said. “TLCC is at the middle of it, but now we’ve gone over into that open land.”
The company, which manufactures radiation detection equipment for mostly medical customers, is expected to build a 15,000-square-foot building near TLCC by April or May 2014 and create 50 full- and part-time jobs with an average hourly wage greater than $12 by 2016.
RDC President Barrie Laing said he wanted to relocate to Texas because of the state’s business-friendly attitude and economy.
“We started [looking to relocate] four years ago. With the changes in California’s regulations and taxation, it was motivation to come here,” he said. “Some of the reasons were less tangible—everyone we met here was very friendly.”
Thomas said the medical focus in the area, including the TLCC, made Georgetown the ideal spot in Texas.
“When we started talking to [RDC], the real differentiator for Georgetown was the fact that we have a focus on medical [development],” he said. “They said because of the growth at TLCC, [RDC] wanted to come here because it’s obvious that the companies are successful. So if they can be successful, [RDC] should be able to be successful, too.”
TLCC Executive Director Michael Douglas, Ph.D.
Michael Douglas took the helm as the new executive director at the Texas Life-sciences Collaboration Center on Jan. 1. Douglas, a Southwetern University alumnus, also serves as the Brown-Wilson Scholar at Southwestern, where he is leading the development of a new master’s degree program in clinical translation with The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston.
Douglas has held positions at the University of Texas medical schools in San Antonio and Dallas, the University of North Carolina Medical School and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark.
“It was in North Carolina that I became interested in the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “I developed an interest in how one can translate science into something commercial.”
During the course of his career, Douglas has also spent time working for biotechnology companies as CEO, chief scientific officer and chairman of the board.
TLCC expanding workforce development programs
Michael Douglas, Texas Life-sciences Collaboration Center executive director, said some space in the center’s new 15,000-square-foot building could also be used to create a satellite classroom for Austin Community College’s biotechnology and biomaterials manufacturing classes.
“That satellite would be basically to provide contextual learning for the students. … Those students who get the appropriate certification can actually participate directly in the … manufacturing process,” he said. “What it is for us and what it is for ACC is basically a workforce development program that we use to attract companies here.”
TLCC is also developing a way to allow ACC faculty to work as consultants and contribute training and expertise to member companies, he said.
“If I’m trying to get a company to come from California, the first thing they are going to want to know is, is the space right for me. And two, is there a workforce here?” Douglas said. “That is a big selling point. If you don’t have a workforce, they won’t come. That’s a real plus for us.”
Douglas said he also plans to bring in faculty from Georgetown ISD for workshops to explain what is happening in the field of life sciences.
“Even counselors in high school need to be updated on what’s happening in the industry,” he said. “In order to start these students into something that might open a lot of opportunity for them, they need to know what’s out there for them.”
Additional reporting by Audrey Spencer.