Across the globe, Philadelphia is known more for its homegrown hip hop giants and boxing greats than for its long history of health sciences innovation. But as the home of the United States’ first teaching hospital, surgical amphitheater and medical library, Philadelphia continues to build on its legacy as a healthcare powerhouse.
Since late 2018, Philadelphia has seen a surge of expansions by companies using innovative gene therapy techniques to treat cancer and rare diseases. If momentum continues at its current pace, the city even stands a fighting chance at surpassing biotechnology hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston/Cambridge as the U.S.’ center for healthcare innovation over the next decade.
In October, Limelight Bio joined the list of life sciences firms, including Iovance Biotherapeutics, Spark Therapeutics and Amicus Therapeutics, which have all committed to major Philly-area growth plans over the past 13 months.
Limelight Bio has leased 25,000 square feet, taking the entire 16th floor at Healthpeak Properties’ Science Center at 3535 Market. The firm plans to move into its new space by the second quarter of 2020.
Among the recent batch of life sciences expansions, this deal is unique for at least two reasons:
Limelight Bio Is a Product of the University of Pennsylvania’s Pennovation Center
Unlike Iovance and Amicus, which are headquartered out-of-state but have announced recent Philadelphia expansions to enhance their collaboration with Philly’s wealth of healthcare research institutions, Limelight Bio is strictly a product of hometown innovation.
When it takes occupancy at 3535 Market, the venture capital-backed firm will be moving out of its birthplace, the Pennovation Center on Gray’s Ferry Avenue. Owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania, Pennovation Center is a business incubator which offers startups a mix of coworking space, lab facilities and an auditorium/event space.
Limelight Bio’s growth is an early sign that the work at Pennovation Center, which opened in 2016, is bearing fruits for Philadelphia’s economy and real estate markets. It also foreshadows future expansions that will come from the Cambridge Innovation Center, which opened a 125,000-square-foot incubator at 3675 Market less than one year ago.
This Lease Involves a 1970s-Built Property, Rather Than a New Development
Due to their advanced technological needs, most recent leases by gene therapy firms including Iovance and Amicus have gone to newly developed properties. While these expansions provide a huge boost to Philadelphia’s economy, and to developers’ profits, they do little to help owners of already existing properties who are trying to fill their space.
3535 Market was built in 1973, but since losing Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as an anchor tenant in 2017, the building’s owner, Healthpeak Properties, completed a $40 million renovation. Healthpeak added a new lobby and facade, while replacing its windows, roof and cooling tower.
These renovations have brought revitalized office space to market in University City at a critical time. With leasing improving and no new office projects likely to deliver before 2021, 2.0 University Place and 3600 Market are the only other modern office properties west of 32nd Street near the heart of Penn’s Campus with more than 20,000 square feet available for immediate occupancy.
The recent upgrades at 3535 Market even convinced CHOP to return to some of its former space within the property. With CHOP continuing to grow and the office market tightening, the healthcare giant recently agreed to move back into a full floor at 3535 Market during the first quarter of 2020.
In higher rent, university-oriented office submarkets like Cambridge’s Kendall Square and Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto, tenant demand is strong enough that tech firms clamor for space, not just in high end new developments, but also existing properties. Limelight Bio’s lease at 3535 Market helps push University City further in that direction as the submarket enters a new decade with plenty of cause for optimism.
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