Two large new laboratory buildings associated with a regional pharmaceutical manufacturing effort have been designated in Richmond and Chesterfield.
Activation Capital is moving forward with pre-pandemic plans for a 100,000-square-foot laboratory in downtown Richmond with funding part of a $53 million federal pandemic recovery grant recently awarded to the Regional Alliance to Build Better Medicine. The group consists of public and private sector entities in the Richmond-Petersburg region with the goal of developing a pharmaceutical manufacturing center.
This same initiative will also help fund a 60,000-square-foot laboratory in Chesterfield County to support a drug manufacturing facility being built in Petersburg by Utah-based Civica.
Next wet lab in Richmond
For its part, Activation Capital intends to build a facility worth between $45 million and $50 million, which will feature laboratory and office space on the corner of Jackson and North Seventh Streets in downtown Richmond.
Activation Capital CEO Chandra Bregman said in an interview this week that the organization plans to use the $19.5 million withheld from the federal grant as well as other grants, the organization’s reserves and debts to cover the cost of the project.
Bregman said the new six-story building is set to rise on what is currently a car park owned by Activation Capital, although a portion of the land will remain in current use.
The facility will primarily focus on wet labs – the laboratory space where liquids go into testing chemicals, drugs, and other materials. The laboratories will be leased to life sciences companies.
The project could start in a year and would take 18 to 24 months to build. Bregman said that a general contractor for the project has not yet been selected. She refused to specify an architecture firm for the project.
Federal funding helps kick-start a plan who was in business since before the pandemic. Since then, the scope of the project has remained the same but the building has been relocated forward on the other side of the block.
“When (the pandemic) shook things up, we had to take a step back and reassess what the new market demand would be and what this building would look like,” Bregman said. “We’ve converted the site because it was originally on 8th and Lee, to[the new site]because what we’re looking at is to create a life sciences corridor down Jackson Street.”
Bregman said her institution has run out of wet lab space on its 34-acre Bio + Tech Park campus at 800 E. Leigh St. The new building aims to provide facilities that will be needed by companies involved in the emerging pharmaceutical manufacturing in the region as well as other companies.
“Our challenge is that we are at capacity now. Our ability to make an impact is limited because of our space. The Innovation Center is the answer to that challenge for us,” she said, referring to the upcoming facility.
The new lab space will also be available for rental by startup companies. Activation Capital supports the development of startup companies through its programs and initiatives.
Civica Laboratory in Chesterfield
In Chesterfield’s Meadowville Technology Park, another laboratory facility will be formed to support the regional push to become a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub.
Civica plans to expand its presence in Central Virginia with a new laboratory at a cost of at least $27.8 million, a number that includes federal grant funding and funds from Civica.
“We’re doing out-of-state lab testing now, but it’s clearly very helpful to have a lab near the (Petersburg) manufacturing facility,” Alan Cockle, vice president of public policy at Civica, said in an interview. “We went through the site selection process and checked a number of sites and this was the site that was selected in terms of location, infrastructure, etc.”
That $27.8 million figure, shared in an announcement Thursday by Governor Glenn Yongkin’s office, covers “the lion’s share” of construction and includes the acquisition of 9 Meadowvale acres for the facility, Cockle said. He added that the company intends to increase the contribution with an additional unspecified investment in the facility.
The laboratory will focus on testing as well as research and development initiatives to support drug manufacturing that will take place at the company’s under-construction plant in Petersburg.
Civica, a nonprofit organization, expects to hire 51 employees to work in the lab. The 60,000-square-foot facility is planned to host a dedicated VCU Medicines for All Institute laboratory to scale production. The facility is planned to have space to be rented by other users.
Civica owns the 9-acre site for the facility under contract, and Coukell said the deal is expected to close soon. The company declined to comment on what it intends to spend to purchase the property.
Coukell said an architect and general contractor had not yet been selected for the project.
Yongkin has approved a $400,000 grant for Sivica from the Commonwealth Opportunity Fund, according to a press release from his office. A fund is a measure of money at the governor’s disposal to attract companies to incorporate or expand in Virginia.
Civica is too It now operates a $140 million manufacturing facility for injectable drugs in Petersburg, which the company announced in January 2021. The manufacturing of this facility is expected to begin next year, and the products are expected to begin to market in 2024, Kuckel said.
Youngkin announced Project Civica during a ceremony Thursday at Brightpoint Community College’s Chester campus to honor the Alliance for Building Better Medicine scholarship award.
The US Department of Commerce’s Department of Economic Development announced last week that the Alliance for Building Better Medicine was among 21 groups across the country selected for funding through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, an initiative of the Biden administration’s US bailout plan.
The Coalition to Build Better Medicine includes Activation Capital, Civica, the cities of Richmond and Perrysburg, Phlow, Greater Richmond Partnership, AMPAC Fine Chemicals VCU Engineering School and VSU among others.
A spokesperson for The Alliance for Building Better Medicine said this week that organizations in the Greater Richmond area will match the $52 million federal grant with $13.6 million, with a total investment of $66.5 million for regional projects.
Joint VCU and VSU research and degree programs, technical programs at community colleges as well as improvements to Petersburg’s water and wastewater infrastructure where manufacturing facilities are located are part of the projects that will be supported by the grant, according to a press release.