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Growth Of DFW's Life Sciences Industry Could Bring Innovations 'From Bench To Bedside'

For many years, startups spinning out of top-tier universities would leave Dallas-Fort Worth in favor of major life sciences hubs like Boston and San Francisco.

But a recent increase in lab inventory and venture capital aimed at growing the DFW market means more of that research and innovation is staying local, creating a denser life sciences ecosystem that could improve care at the region's hospitals.

Hunton Andrews Kurth's Katy Carmical, Dallas Regional Chamber's Duane Dankesreiter, The Beck Group's Brian Burns and Lyda Hill Philanthropies & LH Capital's Nicole Small

“Bringing the bench closer to the bed has to be a focus of what we are trying to do,” JLL Managing Director and Region Lead Ethan Garner said at an Aug. 29 Bisnow event held at the Hilton Anatole. “Ultimately it’s about saving people’s lives, creating efficiencies in the system that lower costs and being in a market where innovation is driving change.” 

Life sciences research is known to catalyze the development of new technologies, such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, therapeutics and other diagnostics used to treat patients, according to the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation.

When there is collaboration between life sciences and healthcare, panelists said, hospitals can be on the cutting edge of new technologies while also serving as a testing ground for new products.

HDR Architecture's Chad Anderson, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth's Joseph DeLeon, Centerwell Primary Care's Kate Blackmon, Baylor Scott & White's Angel Benschneider and Gensler's Steven Upchurch

“There needs to be interconnectivity between scientific innovation, research institutions and local health systems — a collaboration with a strategic journey from bench to bedside,” Hunton Andrews Kurth partner Katy Carmical said.

While still a relatively immature market, more life sciences companies now view DFW as a viable home for their business.

In 2021, the Metroplex was named as an emerging market by JLL due to its sizable talent pipeline, available jobs and strong migration trends. There are currently 150,000 life sciences employees in DFW, Lyda Hill Philanthropies and LH Capital CEO Nicole Small said.

Terrell Economic Development Corp.'s Ray Dunlap, Caddis' Kyle Miller, Transwestern's John Huff, Devenney Group Architect's Andrew Flanigan, Ryan Co.'s Kevin Schoolcraft and Rogers-O'Brien Construction's Brian McFarlane

Despite DFW’s many upsides, a lack of commercial lab space has hamstrung rapid expansion of the local life sciences industry.

The March opening of BioLabs, 37K SF of rentable lab and office space in Pegasus Park, was a major step in providing the infrastructure for postgraduates to grow their ideas, but fostering the entire life cycle of a company is something DFW has yet to accomplish.

More private risk capital is needed to bridge the gap, Montgomery Street Partners Senior Vice President Sam Johnson said.

“The key to unlocking the ecosystem is to be able to look a company in the eye and say, ‘We can accommodate your growth over the next 10-year super cycle, wherever that goes,’” he said. “We are well-positioned to do that, but it’s hard, and it takes a lot of spec dollars.”

Page's Cody Cartusciello, Cook Children's Health Care System's Spencer Seals, Vanguard HCS' Richard Delgado, Cambridge Holdings' Steve Wheeler, DPR Construction's Piyush Jajpuria, HCA's Kyle Marden and Grace Hebert Curtis Architects' Thomas Curtis

On the real estate side, DFW needs more space for companies to grow into once they’ve graduated from a jumping-off point, like BioLabs. Converting existing assets to a life science use is one possible solution, but due to the delicate nature of lab environments, some buildings are better equipped than others, said Diego Rozo, associate principal and senior project manager at Perkins&Will.

“It’s tricky, but all can be accommodated up to a certain point,” he said. “You have to understand what you are getting into.”

Hunton Andrews Kurth's Katy Carmical, Dallas Regional Chamber's Duane Dankesreiter, The Beck Group's Brian Burns, Lyda Hill Philanthropies & LH Capital's Nicole Small, Perkins&Will's Diego Rozo and JLL's Ethan Garner

Despite the progress that has yet to be made, many of the variables needed to galvanize life sciences activity are already in place.

Economic incentives offered by the regional chamber, access to state grants and private risk capital, a sizable talent pool, a business-friendly environment and a relatively low cost of living, are all winning factors when convincing a company to choose DFW over coastal markets.

“We have all the ingredients we need to build a robust life sciences system here,” Small said. “We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the [intellectual property], we’ve got the capital, so I think it’s going to continue to be an interesting time here in North Texas for life sciences.”