LabCentral, the biotech incubator in Cambridge that has nurtured dozens of startups in a shared working space since 2013, plans to roughly double in size in two years with a new 100,000-square-foot facility in the heart of Kendall Square.
But instead of providing laboratory equipment for scientists to do early-stage research, the new outpost will help startups that have cleared that hurdle to develop potential drugs that the firms eventually hope to test in clinical trials.
Dubbed LabCentral 238, the venture will be located on two floors of 238 Main St., a construction site owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Builders are combining the existing century-old Kendall Building, featuring its unique clock tower, with a 12-story addition that is going up.
LabCentral 238 will straddle both buildings and have a connecting bridge. The facility will include dozens of modest-sized bioreactors that are used to make biologic drugs produced from living organisms.
“It’s not just more of the same,” Johannes Fruehauf, cofounder and president of LabCentral, said of the project scheduled to be announced Tuesday.
His nonprofit has rapidly expanded as average monthly rents for traditional lab space in white-hot Kendall Square have approached $100 a square foot, raising demand for a less costly alternative.
LabCentral 238 is scheduled to open in autumn 2021, Fruehauf said. It will lease shared space to about 20 venture-backed startups that employ a total of about 300 people, he said. The project is getting a boost from a Tokyo-based drug maker and the state.
Astellas Pharma Inc., the Japanese firm, will invest $12.5 million in the biomanufacturing incubator, plus $450,000 in LabCentral’s existing 103,000-square-foot complex a short walk away at 700 Main St.
Astellas has a regenerative medicine subsidiary in Marlborough and will be a founding sponsor of LabCentral 238. Its executives hope to get an early look at promising startups at the new outpost and maybe even make deals with them.
“We need more access to innovative startup companies, especially in the cell therapy and gene therapy space,” said Yoshitsugu Shitaka, president of the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine, whose company will have an office in LabCentral 238.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency that promotes the state’s biotechnology industry, plans to contribute $5 million to LabCentral 238, said Fruehauf. All told, the new incubator will cost $30 million to $40 million to build.
One of the goals of state officials is to encourage more biomanufacturing jobs in Massachusetts. Such jobs typically pay less than what scientists earn but often only require associate degrees or one-year certificates instead of advanced degrees.
Massachusetts consistently ranks at or near the top of states with high-paying biopharma research jobs. But it lagged behind nine other states in its total biomanufacturing positions, according to the most recent report by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council trade group.
“We need to present Massachusetts to the rest of the world as a turnkey state where you can discover it, develop it, commercialize it, and manufacture it all here,” said Travis McCready, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
Researchers who lease space at LabCentral say that once they identify new potential medicines at the incubator, they often have to wait months or years to pay contract manufacturing organizations, or CMOs, to actually make the substances for clinical trials, according to McCready and Fruehauf. That’s because CMOs are often too busy working for large drug companies.
LabCentral 238 will make early versions of the drugs more quickly and at a lower cost, although the substances won’t meet the rigorous standards that CMOs must follow to allow the compounds to be tested in patients. Then, if the substances still seem promising, the startups at LabCentral will pay CMOs to produce them at the higher standards.
Some of the startups in the new lab may have already been LabCentral tenants, but they don’t have to be, Fruehauf said.
The other tenants at 238 Main St. are expected to include one of the world’s biggest drug makers. Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical giant, said in April it has signed a 12-year lease for 62,100 square feet on the top two floors and a common area, for a total of $100 million. Bayer is expanding its presence in Kendall Square.
LabCentral has grown rapidly since it was founded six years ago at 700 Main St., where technology pioneer Thomas A. Watson received the first long-distance phone call in the 1800s, and Polaroid founder Edwin Land kept an office a century later. It originally opened with 28,000 square feet on the ground floor of 700 Main St. but has expanded repeatedly because of demand.
About 320 scientists and entrepreneurs from 70 startups currently rent lab benches, offices, or suites, and the space doesn’t come cheap. A biotech entrepreneur told the Globe this year that he was paying $4,600 a month for a lab bench and a couple of shelves.
But he and other renters say the fees are worth it. They get access to millions of dollars in laboratory equipment, tips from other young scientists in the incubator, amenities like unlimited espresso and two nap rooms, and face time with local drug developers and venture capitalists.
The state has more than two dozen incubators, according to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.