- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Northern Virginia’s chances of attracting new biotechnology companies improved last week when Gov. Mark Warner announced plans to include $255 million in his upcoming budget for biomedical research at the state’s universities.

Some of the research would be done at a 60,000-square-foot sealed laboratory planned for George Mason University’s Prince William County campus.

The $41 million biocontainment lab, which is being funded by GMU and the National Institutes of Health, will be used primarily to research potential cures for biological weapons such as anthrax and tularemia.

Charles Bailey, executive director of the university’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases, called the laboratory “a tremendous magnet for top-of-the-line scientists.”

State and university officials say the biocontainment lab is only one component of their economic development plans. They also want more biotech companies to open offices nearby to tap into the federal contracts that would be carried out at the lab.

“There’s obvious economic potential as a result of the research we’re talking about,” said Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Warner administration.

Northern Virginia is one of the preferred sites for small and mid-sized biotech companies getting pushed out of Montgomery County by high lease rates.

Although many biotech companies prefer Montgomery County for its proximity to the National Institutes of Health and major government contractors along the I-270 Technology Corridor, office rents are running more than $29 per square foot in Bethesda.

By comparison, Northern Virginia is averaging $22 to $24 per square foot this year for office space outside the Beltway.

GMU is located outside the Beltway in Fairfax.

GMU and other Virginia universities spend about $770 million a year on biotech research and development.

“This is merely an effort to catapult them over the billion-dollar mark, with some pretty significant incentives to leverage matching funds from the federal government, private sector [and] foundations,” Mr. Hall said.

Drug manufacturer Eli Lilly & Co. already has acquired land to build an insulin plant and research facility near the Prince William County biocontainment lab.

Although Eli Lilly purchased the land before the lab won grant approval two months ago, university officials say they think the proximity of George Mason University influenced the company’s decision.

In other news …

• Columbia Equity Trust is acquiring the 65,000-square-foot Oakton Corporate Center in Oakton for $16 million. Tenants include Vance International, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems and SunTrust Mortgage. Columbia Equity Trust has acquired 15 office buildings since it raised $188 million in an initial public offering this summer.

• Real estate holding company Corporate Office Properties Trust is acquiring 7015 Albert Einstein Drive in Howard County’s Columbia Gateway Business Park for $9.2 million. Broadwing Communications is leasing all of the 61,000-square-foot building.

• Property Lines appears Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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