By Lisa Tsering
A biotech company that did the largest IPO in Berkeley history has leased an entire West Berkeley warehouse and will move its labs and offices there by 2016, helping to bolster the city’s reputation as a world-class life-sciences hub.
Aduro Biotech Inc., led by UC Berkeley biochemist Stephen T. Isaacs, specializes in creating drugs designed to strengthen the immune system to fight off cancer. It works on some of the toughest-to-fight tumors, such as pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma.
The company went public in April, raising $119 million in Berkeley’s largest ever initial public offering. It currently employs around 80 people in a smaller space on Bancroft Way.
“We anticipate the Heinz building will service our needs for years and will create multiple job opportunities within the Berkeley community,” Isaacs told Berkeleyside in an email.
The four-story, 110,000 square-foot LEED Gold building is “the first flexible, state-of-the-art life-sciences building to be constructed in Berkeley since 2001,” according to a Sept. 18 press release from Wareham.
DGA, a leading laboratory designer specializing in the life sciences, designed 740 Heinz; the development team included BNBT Builders, Nova Partners and Tipping-Mar and Associates.
Aduro has signed a 12-year lease for the new headquarters, committing to half the space now, with an option to lease the rest of the space in July.
Isaacs, Aduro’s president, director, chairman and CEO, has deep roots in Berkeley. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s biochemistry department, he served on the faculty of the university’s chemistry department from 1978 to 1986, and is an inventor on more than 40 issued patents. Isaacs formerly led the Cerus Corporation, a biomedical products company, and founded the biotech research and development companies HRIS Associates and HRI Research.
It was important to Isaacs to situate the company here, he said.
“The Bay Area is a thriving region for the industry and it continues to spawn innovative biotech leaders,” he said. “While the South Bay and Peninsula house a large number of biotech companies, organizations like us who are based in the East Bay are able to attract talent on this side of the bay in addition to scientific talent from UC Berkeley.”
Due to its proximity to UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as the 130-acre Berkeley Global Campus in Richmond Bay, now under development, Berkeley is home to numerous biotech companies, including Bayer, Merck, Dynavax Technologies, Siemens Diagnostics, Roche Diagnostics and XOMA, as well as the QB3-East Bay Innovation Center, a West Berkeley incubator that rents lab space to startup companies and researchers.
But Berkeley is short on Class-A office space that attracts high-tech companies. While there are many early-stage high-tech companies at the Skydeck, an incubator space at the top of the Wells Fargo building on Shattuck Avenue, and WeWork and NextSpace, two co-working spaces in downtown Berkeley, many of these businesses move out of town once they get big. But the cluster of buildings catering to biotech has meant more of those types of companies have remained.
“It’s not that there is a lack of good-quality space – it’s just that there is a lack of space,” said Michael Caplan, the city of Berkeley’s economic development manager. “The companies want to stay here, but we just don’t have the supply.” Most developers choose to build homes instead of office buildings because homes offer a greater return on their investments, he added.
This means that business is booming for a developer like Wareham. “Leasing activity with new and renewing tenants at both our Aquatic Park Center research campus in Berkeley and at our EmeryStation campus in Emeryville is highly robust, with multiple offers on what little available space we have,” Wareham partner Chris Barlow told Berkeleyside.
740 Heinz was formerly known as the Copra Building (and alternatively, the Garr Building), which was designated a Berkeley landmark in 1985 but whose seismic instability led it to be declared a public nuisance in 2002. Situated on a cul-de-sac, and separated by railroad tracks from Berkeley’s Aquatic Park alongside Interstate 80, the building is adjacent to a pedestrian mall and an on-site childcare facility, according to Wareham.
As Berkeleyside reported previously, Wareham’s original 2009 design for 740 Heinz called for retaining its historic north and south brick façades; in return for keeping those walls intact, the city allowed Wareham to exceed the neighborhood’s height and story limit.
When Wareham announced in late 2012 that keeping the historic walls made the project too expensive and financially unfeasible, it sparked a protest from a coalition of neighbors called Friends of the West Berkeley Plan, who gathered more than 30 signatures on a petition appealing the city’s decision to allow the construction.
Longtime Berkeley resident Jeff Kaplan, who led the protest when he lived nearby, no longer lives on Heinz Avenue, and Friends of the West Berkeley Plan have since disbanded.
But Kaplan still feels strongly that a large biotech presence is not in Berkeley’s best interests.
“It is very difficult for ordinary citizens to have a meaningful say in projects like 740 Heinz, because they can’t hire a team of lawyers to work full-time monitoring city commissions,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan adds that he believes biotech may not be as safe as widely believed. There have been numerous security breaches and safety violations in labs around the country, according to a May 28 article in USA Today.
“Even the official government rules about lab safety are totally inadequate: they are a standard appropriate for the mid-20th century that are supposed to control a vastly more powerful 21st-century technology,” said Kaplan.
Aduro has several partnerships in the pipeline, including one with Johnson & Johnson, another with Johns Hopkins University and still another with Novartis, to develop a cancer immunotherapy using microscopic cyclic dinucleotides, or CDNs, which stimulate interferon genes to respond to pathogens.
Another promising therapy, which the company describes as its “platform technology,” is Aduro’s proprietary method of using LADD, or Live, Attenuated, Double-Deleted Listeria mononcytogenes, agents by themselves or in combination with existing conventional and emerging cancer therapies.
On Sept. 24, Aduro announced its proposed acquisition of the Dutch company BioNovion, which will bring on an additional 24 staffers in The Netherlands.
According to Isaacs, “[We] plan to hire another 20-30 before year-end. We’ve not shared exact details around our planned growth but the new facility will handle up to approximately 400 employees.”
That’s good news to officials like Caplan. “Aduro is a game-changing company and we are so glad they are growing here,” he said. “They are a perfect example of a company that was started in Berkeley and was nurtured and became successful here.”
Isaacs added: “Because schools like Berkeley will continue to develop and produce bright and promising young scientists, I believe the Bay Area, and the East Bay in particular, will continue to be a hotbed for the biotech industry.”
740 Heinz moves forward, sans historic walls (01.23.13)
Wareham: Preservation of historic factory too expensive (01.18.13)
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