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The Next Life Sciences Hot Spot Could Be In Columbus, Ohio

It is already a center of retail development, logistics and growing demand for data centers. But Columbus, Ohio, believes its next evolution may be as a burgeoning biotech hub. A CBRE report on the city’s growth potential in the field lauds its “strong balance of talent/education, employment and funding.”

“Cell and gene therapy has exploded,” said David Morgan, a vice president with CBRE in Columbus. “And now, once technologies are spun off, they can stay in Columbus rather than relocating.” 

Columbus, Ohio, home to a top-tier university and research hospital, is angling to be a biotech center.

Like many growing life sciences hubs such as Houston, talent is the key driver for growth, due in large part to institutions such as Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which has pioneered a number of new gene therapy treatments.

Over the previous five years, 8,700 students graduated from OSU with degrees in biology, biomedical science, chemistry and pharmacy, and the school is in the top 10 nationwide for biological and biomedical science doctorate completions.

There is plenty of room to grow, especially for dedicated lab space: Columbus has 210K SF, according to CBRE. Life sciences companies lease millions of square feet in office and industrial properties, the report says. Investment is flowing in to help local companies grow.

In the last five years, Columbus firms have received $594M in venture capital funding and $1.6B in National Institutes of Health funding. A dozen firms operate in roughly 93 facilities, including biomanufacturing centers and labs for cell and gene therapy startups.

Some of the bigger names include Andelyn Biosciences, a spinoff from Nationwide, Batelle and Forge Biologics, which raised a $120M Series B in 2022. The metro region boasts about 2,600 life sciences workers, equivalent to the size of the biotech workforce in Austin, Texas, another market with aspirations to become a larger player in biotech.

“Columbus is in its relative infancy in this, but it’s coming,” Morgan said.

It also has a significant real estate development in the works. The Carmenton tech campus, a multidisciplinary research hub being developed by Ohio State University and Tishman Speyer, will cover 270 acres adjacent to the west edge of the campus. It will include a significant biotech and lab component, adding space to the nascent life sciences market, with specific research centers focused on cancer and cardiovascular health.

It also helps overcome a widespread challenge of new biotech markets: the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum of building up startup capacity or lab space. Life sciences lab space is significantly limited, and firms expanding in or moving to Columbus typically convert industrial or flex space. 

Morgan said Carmenton will catalyze other developers to take a chance and build in the city. It is a “generational” investment for OSU and will roll out over decades, providing solid backing and support for growth, he said. 

In addition, the cost-of-living advantages and talent pool coming from OSU provide the city of Columbus with advantages attracting new development, Morgan said. The CBRE report says the 2021 average cost of living in Columbus, roughly $48K, is well below that of Boston's $70K.