Take a look inside the stunning offices where companies are reinventing NYC’s biotech scene

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Hollis Johnson

New York City is trying its best to build up a biotech scene.

And to get it off the ground, the Alexandria Center for Life Science has spent the last decade trying to catch the city up with other biotech hubs.

By combining pharma giants and startups fresh out of New York’s medical institutions, Alexandria’s campus houses companies withsciencein every stage of development.

The center is located in Manhattan and is bordered by hospitals to its north and south, setting it up to house the next wave of New York-based medical discoveries.

Take a look at the stunning campus:


To start our tour, we headed to the east side of Manhattan on 29th Street. Alexandria borders the East River and the FDR freeway. The location puts it directly in the middle of all the hospitals that span the east side of Manhattan, where medical innovation is happening.

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Hollis Johnson

So far, Alexandria has built two of the three towers. The north tower (farthest left), is in the works and should be up in about four years. The goal of bringing a ‘cluster’ to New York was to keep technologies and other medical discoveries in the city, instead of forcing researchers with good ideas to move around the country.

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Hollis Johnson

Inside the West Tower, there’s an expansive lobby. Jenna Foger, Alexandria Real Estate Equities’ senior principal of science and technology, told Business Insider that the building was designed so that every space — including the lobby — could be used for events. For example, last year it was used to host a panel event that included billionaire philanthropist Sean Parker and other cancer research leaders.

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Hollis Johnson

Upstairs, each tower has a few floors of a ‘Science Hotel,’ or areas where startups can move in quickly and get to work without worrying about much. They come complete with a pretty killer view.

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Hollis Johnson

The common areas have space for groups of all sizes. One of the big reasons Alexandria pushes ‘clusters’ is so smaller companies, just getting started, have the chance to meet with large companies who might be interested in partnering with them.

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Hollis Johnson

For example, John Cunningham, Alexandria’s senior vice president of the NYC cluster, said Roche, which is one of its tenants, spent 82 years 12 miles away in New Jersey and didn’t really partner with academics in the city. Once it moved into the city, it has managed to link more than 50 collaborations in two years. All of the floors also have meeting rooms that are shared by all the tenants so they don’t have to carve out meeting space in their labs and offices.

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The lab space comes with all the basics, which can be moved around to fit the needs of whatever company moves in. ‘They show up on Day 1 and this is what they get,’ Foger said.

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Hollis Johnson

Downstairs, there’s a gym. Foger called this the ‘software of the campus.’ The gym’s open 24/7 to all the tenants.

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Although the office was relatively quiet on the Friday morning ahead of a holiday weekend, Foger said the buildings are mostly full. All that’s left is the 14th floor in the West Tower, which will in part be filled with an Alexandria-backed seed fund.

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In between the east and west towers is a restaurant called The Cube, one of chef Tom Colicchio’s two restaurants on campus.

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Outside, green areas seem to extend to the river.

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The grounds around the towers are home to one of the largest urban gardens in New York City.

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Along with more floors of office and lab space, the East Tower is home to the Apella conference center and the Riverpark restaurant.

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Riverpark, another Tom Colicchio restaurant, is open to the public. It can also be used as event space for the tenants, fitting about 1,500 people.

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Hollis Johnson

To make a life-sciences cluster work, said Alexandria CEO and founder Joel Marcus, you need four elements: a location, the science, the talent to manage companies, and risk capital. In New York, the latter two were missing when Alexandria started building the location. ‘We wanted to perfect the site and make it a campus — not just some big building, but a destination,’ Marcus told Business Insider.

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Academic institutions and smaller startups partnering with large pharma companies is a somewhat new phenomenon, Foger said. Until recently, corporations would do their own research and develop in-house. But in the last few years, there’s been a push to look outward as a way to face off against drugs that aren’t making money anymore once they lose their patents.

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Read more about the changing pharma business model.


But in the past year, with pressure mounting to increase prices for older drugs, drug companies haven’t been swarming to New York as fast as expected. ‘To be honest, it still is taking time to bite the bullet,’ Foger said.

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Hollis Johnson

Even so, the life-sciences east corridor isn’t done expanding yet. Cornell University is planning a new tech campus on Roosevelt Island, which would link to the Alexandria Center via ferry once it’s done.

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Hollis Johnson

Source: Cornell University


On the second floor of the East Tower is a large conference space that’s been used for everything from Clinton Foundation events to bar mitzvahs. It’s also where Alexandria hosts panels and other discussions that bring patients, researchers, and companies into the same room. For example, in March, Alexandria hosted a panel on bipolar disorder.

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Hollis Johnson

The New York ‘cluster’ is one of seven Alexandria operates. The real-estate company has also set up clusters in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Cambridge, Maryland, and North Carolina. Marcus said the company’s being pitched to be in several more locations, such as Memphis and St. Louis. But, Marcus said, the only place he’d consider looking is at the Houston area. Even then, he said, it would take about a decade to build up all the elements that make a cluster work.

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Hollis Johnson

So far, some of the work done in Alexandria’s labs has made it to approval. (Eli Lilly, one of the big pharma companies on site, has five floors of lab space.)

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Hollis Johnson

With any luck, in the next decade or two, a major medical discovery could take place in one of these towers in the heart of New York City.

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Hollis Johnson