One of the business pioneers of the Seaport District appears ready to grow in a new corner of the burgeoning neighborhood.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals is poised to lease a building under construction in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Industrial Park, the biotechnology company said this week. A lease has not been finalized, but Vertex and development firm Related Beal are in advanced talks for 256,000 square feet of space at Innovation Square, a lab and office project Related is building on Tide Street.
Vertex would use it as a research and manufacturing facility for genetic and cellular therapies, a key part of the company’s push into treatments for diseases beyond cystic fibrosis, which has long been its main focus. Earlier this year, the drug maker bought Watertown-based Exonics, which is developing gene therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Semma Therapeutics, which is working on medicines for type 1 diabetes. Vertex also is moving forward in clinical trials of gene editing treatments.
“The question became how are we going to grow those programs if we’re running out of space at Fan Pier?” said Vertex chief executive Dr. Jeffrey Leiden. “The answer is a new building.”
Vertex looked at sites in Cambridge, Waltham, Watertown, and elsewhere around the region, Leiden said, but settled on the Seaport, where it moved its headquarters and 1,100 employees from Kendall Square five years ago. The company’s arrival kicked off a frenzy of office development in the neighborhood that continues today.
Other than Vertex, many of the larger businesses to initially move to the Seaport were law and accounting firms decamping from downtown, but the neighborhood is increasingly becoming a destination for life sciences firms. Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Ginkgo Bioworks have moved into new space, while Foundation Medicine said it plans to lease nearly all of a 16-story building under construction at Seaport Square. More life sciences-oriented projects are in the works, with developers even updating designs for General Electric’s once-planned headquarters tower in adjacent Fort Point to better fit “world-class” biotech tenants.
At Innovation Square — a two-phase, 375,000-square-foot project on the eastern edge of the Seaport — Related Beal bet that it could build lab space, and the tenants would come.
The company signed Mass Innovation Labs — now called SmartLabs — and PureTech Health as tenants for the first phase, which opened earlier this year, then launched work on the second phase of the $260 million project without a tenant signed up.
The strategy is now paying off.
One reason Vertex wants to move to Innovation Square — and lease the entire second phase in one fell swoop — is because it’s further along than most other projects in the neighborhood, Leiden said, and on track to open in 2021.
“Its permitting is done. It’s already under construction. That saved us one to two years,” he said. “That one to two years was essential.”
There were other factors as well. It’s the right size, Leiden said, and one of a relatively few manufacturing facilities under development in the neighborhood.
It’s also close to Vertex’s enormous headquarters complex, just a mile up the street.
“This is a team sport, what we do, and here the team’s all together,” he said. “We love this area.”
Leiden said he expects 300 to 400 people will work in the new building, on top of about 1,600 who already work at Vertex’s Fan Pier headquarters. The employees will be a mix of new hires and people moving from Exonics and Semma’s offices. He acknowledged that transportation in and out of the neighborhood has become a serious challenge since the company moved there, but said he was hopeful that the other big companies in the area will work together to find solutions.
“We’re thinking a lot about traffic,” Leiden said. “There are a lot of companies bringing more people here. We need a better plan.”