- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

Two local biotechnology businesses announced new facilities last week, including one company that chose Northern Virginia over Maryland, the region's traditional biotech business corridor.

Biovail Corp. signed a 7.5-year lease for 60,600 square feet at the UPS Dulles Distribution Center in Chantilly. The deal is worth $3.7 million, according to brokers who helped arrange the lease.

Also last week, Human Genome Sciences Inc. said it will buy another biotech firm's manufacturing plant in Rockville for $55 million.

Executives at Biovail declined comment on their deal. The Ontario company, which also has an office in Springfield, helps develop time-released drugs for hypertension, asthma and arthritis.

It is the latest biotech organization to expand in Northern Virginia.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute said in February it will build a $500 million complex in Loudoun County that will employ 300 scientists and administrators. The decision was a blow to Montgomery County, where the nonprofit researcher is based.

"The biotech industry is very interested in this region," says Gerald L. Gordon, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

The number of biotech firms in Northern Virginia is unknown, although Fairfax alone has about 90 companies, including American Medical Laboratories, a Chantilly business with about 2,000 employees.

Mr. Gordon says his county wants to develop a niche in "bioinformatics," a spinoff industry that combines elements of traditional biotechnology and information technology.

The Fairfax FDA is planning an 11,000-square-foot bioinformatics incubator that could accommodate between 12 and 15 start-up companies. The county is expected to approve funding for the Springfield facility this spring.

The Prince William and Loudoun departments of economic development say they are also targeting the bioinformatics industry. A spokesman for the Arlington County Department of Economic Development says his agency is developing a plan to beef up its biotech sector.

The region has a long way to go to catch up with Maryland, which has 250 biotech companies that employ 16,000 people, according to RESI, Towson University's research arm. Most of the firms are based in Montgomery County, also home to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates most biotech businesses.

Anirban Basu, senior economist for RESI, says biotech jobs are in demand because the industry "is coming into its own." Firms like Celera Genomics Group of Rockville, which recently mapped the human genetic code, are attracting investors' attention, Mr. Basu says.

Another Maryland biotech giant, Human Genome Sciences Inc., said Friday it will buy a 240,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that is now operated by Life Sciences Technologies Inc. A San Diego firm bought Life Sciences last year and is moving its 425 jobs in Rockville to Frederick County.

Human Genome, which develops gene-based drugs, is also planning to buy a 55-acre lot next to the Life Sciences plant for future expansion, the company says.

Stephen C. Mayer, senior vice president and chief financial officer for HGS, says the new building is "a windfall" for the company.

"To find a completed, fully equipped, large research and manufacturing building immediately adjacent to our planned expansion campus" presented HGS with an opportunity too good to pass up, he says.

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