North Carolina is home to one of the most dynamic life sciences clusters in the United States, with more than 600 life science companies, 75 percent in the Research Triangle, according to the Life Sciences 2020 report from Cushman and Wakefield,

Cushman and Wakefield’s numbers differ from those cited by the NC Biotech Center, which says there are more than 735 life sciences companies in the state.

Among other metrics cited: life sciences companies employ 6.9 thousand employees, up 84 percent since 2010; a 10.7 percent vacancy for office/lab space; the $20.1 billion in National Institute of Health funding for UNC-CH, $2 billion at Duke; and $160 million for the Research Triangle Institute. NC State, which also lands significant NIH funding, is not listed.

The report notes that Research Triangle Park is centrally located between Raleigh and Durham and is the largest research park in North America. It is home to “industry giants” such as GlaxoSmithKline, IQVIA, PPD, and Biogen. It also includes university spinouts and startups among Fortune 100 international corporations on its “sprawling 7,000 acre campus.”

Three research universities provide talent pool

The report points out that Forbes ranked NC as number one among the best states for business in 2017 and 2018. Key factors, it says, are extremely low cost of doing business, minimal regulations, impressive growth statistics, and a high quality of life.

“Most notably,” the report states, “is home to three separate research universities (Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and NC State University) which graduate 53,000 students annually.” This provides life science companies with a pool of top talent.

The report lists top life science companies, top venture-funded companies, inventory growth projections, notable lease transactions and notable real estate sales transactions.

Other biotech hubs examined in the report are: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, New York City, New Jersey, Oakland/East Bay, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington DC.

Biotech Center responds

Doug Edgeton, president and CEO of the NC Biotech Center, had this response to the report:

“We’re always pleased to be among the nation’s leaders in the annual Cushman & Wakefield life science report. It is, of course, quite specific in its focus on real estate, it’s always useful to see how we compare with other major life science hubs.

“It also serves as a reminder of the importance of some recently announced projects that aren’t reflected in this survey, including Eli Lilly’s January announcement of a $474 million, 462-employee pharma manufacturing facility it’s building in RTP – Lilly’s first in the state.

NC Biotechnology Center CEO Doug Edgeton

“That followed Merck’s announcement of a $680 million, 425-employee vaccine production expansion that’ll add 225,000 square feet to its existing and already impressive Durham campus.

“Fresenius Kabi is adding a $100 million 445-employee expansion of its pharmaceutical factory in Wilson. And Seqirus is constantly expanding its huge cell-based flu vaccine factory in Holly Springs, where it’s about to occupy a $140 million, 120-employee addition to give it 475,000 square feet of space – the size of eight football fields – at its 185-acre site.

More announcements on the near horizon

“And Pfizer has just embarked on a build-out of a $600 million, 340-employee gene therapy research and manufacturing facility at its 230-acre campus in Sanford, plus a $19 million investment in a 60,000-square-foot building on a 16-acre site in Durham. Pfizer already employs about 3,600 people in North Carolina at sites in Chapel Hill, Sanford and Morrisville.

“And there are more announcements on the near horizon, because North Carolina is a great place to do business, especially in the life sciences. In fact, Forbes named us the best state for business in both 2017 and 2018.

“Those same years, Site Selection Magazine has named us the top competitive state. And just last month The Boyd Company released a study comparing the top 25 global biopharma hubs for cost of operating a biomanufacturing plant.

“We came in at number three, beaten only by Bangalore, India and Tel Aviv, Israel. We beat Austin, Texas; Denver; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; Seattle; Montgomery County, Maryland; and of course, San Diego, Philadelphia and Chicago.

“We can never become complacent, because the life science world is extremely competitive, very rewarding, and necessary for global health and well-being. And we’re glad to be among the leaders of the pack.”