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Partners for Buffalo $250 million biotech project opening in February

The $250 million drug development project announced a year ago for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is on track to open a small-scale local operation by February.

In addition, the plan to bring Albany Molecular Research Inc. to the campus, hailed as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” economic development campaign, has evolved with a second company also now committed to locate here, sources confirmed.

PerkinElmer, a Massachusetts company with 7,500 employees and $2 billion in annual revenue, will join AMRI as a partner and together become the first two companies to open local offices. The state is investing $50 million to build and equip a high-tech, drug-development facility for them on the campus.

Cuomo revealed the outline of the AMRI project last December, and academic, business and government leaders spent the past year firming up those plans and figuring out where on the medical campus to put AMRI and its partner.

The companies will move into temporary space at the Jacobs Neurological Institute, where a small contingent of researchers will work while permanent space for AMRI and PerkinElmer is built within a Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. facility already under construction, state and medical campus officials told The News.

“You’ll have the most advanced drug delivery and discovery lines buzzing with 250 high-tech researchers, innovators, for two top companies in the business,” said Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of SUNY Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, who is a driving force behind the AMRI project.

The temporary space at the Jacobs Institute should employ 40 to 60 workers, and the companies expect to move the full contingent of workers into their permanent facility into Ciminelli’s “Conventus” medical office and research building by early 2015.

The state is spending $10 million on construction on the two companies and $40 million to outfit the space.

AMRI will conduct drug discovery and development for pharmaceutical clients, and PerkinElmer supplies equipment used in this process.

Project boosters say the goal is to leverage state money and the presence of the clinical and research institutions on the medical campus to generate private-sector investment and jobs.

“Our whole strategy for the medical campus, our whole focus, was to populate it with private-sector jobs,” said Howard Zemsky, a Cuomo adviser and co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. “We have a ton of assets there.”

Public-private model

The AMRI project is meant to follow the same, public-private partnership model as the highly successful effort to build a nanotechnology industry in the Albany region, and Kaloyeros has been a driving force in the AMRI project.

This medical campus project is separate from the $225 million RiverBend project that the state announced two weeks ago for two California companies planning to move to a former industrial site on the Buffalo River and form the hub for clean-energy manufacturing,

Since the early 1990s, the state has spent more than $1 billion to build and expand SUNY Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, spurring $13 billion in investment from multinational computer-chip makers and related companies.

The state is focusing on the biomedical industry here to build off the growth of the medical campus, and tenants such as the University at Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

When AMRI was named last December as the anchor company in the $250 million project for the medical campus, Cuomo and other officials said the drug developer and contract drug manufacturer would draw additional pharmaceutical industry suppliers and manufacturers to Buffalo.

“I look forward to seeing many other dynamic, high-tech companies coming to Buffalo from around the world as we capitalize on the region’s inherent strengths to support these cutting edge businesses, while adding good-paying, high-tech jobs to the local workforce,” Cuomo said Friday.

State and nanocollege officials declined for a year to identify the partner or partners joining AMRI in Buffalo.

And Kaloyeros said Friday he could not confirm PerkinElmer’s role in the project, citing confidentiality agreements that remain in effect. A PerkinElmer spokeswoman did not respond to a request to comment.

But two officials familiar with the project named the Waltham, Mass., life-sciences company as AMRI’s partner.

PerkinElmer makes instruments for environmental testing and has a human health division that makes products for screening of newborns for infectious diseases.

The company has cut 357 jobs through the first nine months of the year, expanding in Massachusetts while closing other facilities that included two on the West Coast, according to the GenomeWeb news site and the Boston Business Journal.

“They have a credible and proven and very long innovation history, not just in medical,” said one state official who asked not to be named because of the confidentiality agreement.

Temporary home

The governor’s office, the medical campus and the NanoTech complex defended the slow pace of the AMRI project and said it wasn’t a sign of waning interest on the drug company’s part. Much of the past year was spent trying to find a site on the campus for AMRI. Kaloyeros said the Albany project took 2½ years to get started after being announced.

“It’s moving ahead of the mothership project, which is Albany,” Kaloyeros said. “Honestly, it’s going faster than I thought it would.”

The first plan, which would have required tearing down part of the former Trico Products complex, ran into objections from preservationists.

This summer, campus officials eyed another approach: Tearing down the aging, city-owned Ellicott Goodrich Garage, known as the EGG, and replacing those 900 spaces with a 1,600-vehicle ramp and several floors of research space for AMRI on top of the structure.

But faced with the need to get AMRI up and running in temporary space while working out the details for the long-term home, medical campus officials in August focused on buying the former SmartPill Corp. building, at 847 Main St., as the temporary location for the project partners. Plans were submitted to Buffalo’s Planning Board in October for $15 million in construction and renovations.

But Kaloyeros said the SmartPill building was only one of several options under consideration, and planners turned to the Jacobs Institute because the move-in-ready space didn’t require any spending on construction.

Since 2012, the institute has shared space with Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute and UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center, occupying one floor in the $291 million, 10-story facility.

AMRI and PerkinElmer are soon moving into the Jacobs Institute, and this temporary operation should be up and running by late January or early February.

The organization that operates the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus still plans to purchase the former SmartPill building for research space for a biotech company or companies, and still is interested in redeveloping the EGG property, said Matthew K. Enstice, the president and CEO of the medical campus.

“This became the best opportunity for both the companies and our community,” Enstice said. “We’re still going to be moving forward on using that space for the spin-off companies.”

Permanent home

But the permanent home for the two partners will be in the Conventus building, now under construction.

Ciminelli Real Estate had planned and received approval for the $100 million, seven-story “Conventus” medical office and research building at 1001 Main St., and site work began in April. Kaleida Health and the UBMD doctors’ group signed on as the main tenants.

Ciminelli planned one floor dedicated to medical research and development but had not settled on a tenant, said Dennis M. Penman, Ciminelli’s executive vice president.

So AMRI and its partner will move into the seventh floor of the facility, with Ciminelli treating this floor as a “condo” within the larger facility, and the nanocollege and the medical campus owning the roughly 50,000 square feet of space.

The partners will move in starting in fall 2014 and finish the move in early 2015, Kaloyeros said.

Initial plans called for spending $15 million to build the facility, but the $10 million the state will spend in the Conventus building for construction leaves the state with $40 million – not $35 million – to spend on high-tech drug discovery and laboratory equipment.

AMRI will do early-stage drug discovery and development here for pharmaceutical companies, and part of its attraction to the medical campus was the opportunity to work with scientists at UB and other research institutions to identify promising new drug targets, said Thomas E. D’Ambra, who is stepping down as AMRI’s president and CEO at the end of this month.

“Obviously we’ve been talking to a number of companies we work with as well as potential partners to participate,” D’Ambra said.

The hope is to build a biomedical hub, with PerkinElmer and other equipment suppliers drawn here to support the work performed by AMRI in the same way that Tokyo Electron, Applied Materials and other suppliers set up shop at Albany’s NanoTech hub.

“It’s a perfect complement to a lot of what we have going on already,” said Marnie LaVigne, UB’s associate vice president for economic development, referring to AMRI. “They provide a very immediate access to that business marketplace for us.”