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Spark Therapeutics To Build $575M Manufacturing Facility In University City

One of Philadelphia's leading gene therapy companies is setting out to build what could be by far the most prominent biomanufacturing facility in the city to date.

Spark Therapeutics' office at the former Bulletin Building, part of Brandywine Realty Trust's Schuylkill Yards development district in Philadelphia's University City.

Spark Therapeutics will build a $575M gene therapy manufacturing facility on what is now a parking lot owned by Drexel University at 30th and Chestnut streets, the company announced Friday. Spark has agreed to a 99-year ground lease with Drexel, the financial terms of which were not disclosed. Few details of the building itself have been released beyond that it will have multiple stories and total around 500K SF.

With the construction of the new biomanufacturing facility, set to begin in the fourth quarter of 2022, Spark's footprint in University City will reach 1M SF, the announcement stated. The project is still in the design and due diligence phase, and the company is in ongoing discussions with a potential developer and investment partners, a spokesperson told Bisnow. After design and due diligence, Spark will go about the process of securing land use entitlements and building permits.

Spark, which was purchased by multinational pharmaceutical giant Roche at a valuation of over $4B in 2019, currently employs about 800 people across multiple locations in University City, including space at the two largest multiphase projects going up in the neighborhood: Schuylkill Yards and uCity Square. Its 28K SF corporate headquarters, located in uCity Square's 3737 Market St. building, also houses its current manufacturing operation, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports.

Founded in 2013 by scientists at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Spark was the first company to get full Food and Drug Administration approval for a gene therapy with Luxturna, which treats a retinal condition that causes blindness, in 2017. Other conditions its research is seeking to treat include hemophilia, neurogenerative diseases and lysosomal storage disorders. As part of Roche's international network of production facilities, Spark's plant will be tasked with manufacturing all gene therapies developed by Roche's subsidiaries, the PBJ reports.

F Lot, a parking lot owned by Drexel University at 30th and Chestnut streets in University City, with Cira Centre South in the background.

In addition to the ground lease with Drexel, Spark will enter a long-term partnership with the school, Drexel President John Fry said in a statement. The partnership will eventually find placement for students in Drexel's co-op program, a more structured form of internship, the PBJ reports.

“This partnership will generate unparalleled opportunities for our students and faculty to participate in groundbreaking research and to help create and sustain the workforce that will make West Philadelphia a leader in the life sciences revolution,” Fry said in the statement.

Spark was perhaps the largest gene therapy company to be in search of biomanufacturing space in Philadelphia, but it is far from alone. Over 60 users are currently seeking life sciences space of some kind in Philadelphia, with their collective requirements reaching over 2M SF. That represents a 38% change over six months, according to CBRE data from its year-end Life Sciences Report.

To keep up with surging demand for space that meets Current Good Manufacturing Practices standards, Gattuso Development Partners broke ground in December on a speculative CGMP facility in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and Plymouth Group is redeveloping the former Budd Co. plant in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Nicetown-Tioga for biomanufacturing.

Market Street north of 30th Street in University City, with Spark Therapeutics' headquarters at the former Bulleting Building on the right and its extra offices above a bar at 3000 Market St. on the left.

F Lot, where Spark's new facility is set to rise, sits across 30th Street from a former U.S. Postal Service hub that now serves as an office building for the IRS, and across Chestnut Street from USPS' newer hub. The fourth corner of the 30th and Chestnut intersection contains Cira Centre South, made up of a student housing building called Evo and FMC Tower, home to some of the most expensive office space in Philadelphia. Both the IRS building and Evo have been purchased by foreign investors for nine-figure sums in the past decade.

One block to the north sits Schuylkill Yards, Brandywine Realty Trust's megaproject, the first component of which — the former Bulletin Building — is entirely leased to Spark. The company's rapid expansion, facilitated by Roche's acquisition, has already required Brandywine to build it extra space across the street at 3000 Market St., on the second floor of a two-story building.

Schuylkill Yards' next phase, a combination life sciences-and-multifamily project another block to the north on John F. Kennedy Boulevard, broke ground last year. The land for Schuylkill Yards is also owned by Drexel and ground-leased to Brandywine.