A new research facility for biotechnology and pharmaceutical startups in Houston is launching this summer.
K2 BioLabs is finishing construction on a 28,345-square-foot facility at 2710 Reed Road that will serve as a coworking space for early-stage companies developing clinical pipelines toward commercialization. K2bio contains shared and private research laboratory space, desk space, a mouse vivarium, a process development laboratory and on-site access to experienced research managers and lab staff. Kieron Jones, co-founder, president and CEO at K2bio, said the newly renovated facility plans to welcome its first tenants this summer. Jones previously worked at contract development and manufacturing organization Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in College Station. He also worked at Kalon Biotherapeutics LLC before the biotech firm was acquired by Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in 2014.
K2bio aims to offer turnkey services to biotech and biopharmaceutical companies that become members, Jones said. The facility has millions of dollars in medical equipment and machinery for companies to use in the research and development process. The on-site animal vivarium enables companies to execute their own rodent studies, a crucial step toward submitting an Investigational New Drug Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Excess lab supplies will be stored in the facility’s warehouse for use by the member companies.
With all of the facility’s in-house capabilities, Jones said K2bio will help early-stage companies decrease waiting periods from outsourcing research components, saving them time and money.
“If you don’t have to send your product off for nine to 12 months sitting there waiting, and you can actually do it much quicker, much more efficient, then that’s a benefit all around,” Jones said. K2bio is going to be a coworking space, but the facility was supposed to house a single firm’s research and development efforts just a few months ago. K2bio secured the research facility from Houston-based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: BLCM) in February, said K2 co-founder Andrew Strong. Strong was previously the founding president and CEO of Kalon Biotherapeutics, which was formed by the Texas A&M University System in 2011.
Bellicum had just finished building out the state-of-the-art research facility before announcing plans in October 2020 to slash R&D and focus on clinical development of its current pipeline in a corporate restructuring. Those plans also included to reducing Bellicum’s headcount by 79%, from 68 to 14 employees, by the end of 2020, the firm said at the time.
“[Bellicum] had just invested $2 million to $3 million just getting this facility ready, put all their equipment in it, and it was just too valuable to let it go,” Strong said.
The K2bio team includes former Bellicum employees, including Kelly Sharp, who previously oversaw all animal studies for Bellicum.
Sharp now serves as the manager of vivarium services for K2bio. Eva Morschl, an immunologist and research scientist who formerly worked with Bellicum, now works as lab manager for K2bio.
In addition to the firm’s “plug and play” offerings, the experience of the K2 team is another driving feature of the company, Strong said. Most of the K2 leadership team has experience growing biotechnology companies. The K2 scientific advisory board includes Michael Curran, an associate professor of immunology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Ann
Tanabe, CEO of nonprofit BioHouston, which aims to establish Houston as a global competitor in life sciences and biotech commercialization. Already with ties to the Texas Medical Center, the K2 facility is roughly 5 miles south of the TMC campus — just south of the intersection of Highway 288 and the 610 Loop.
K2bio aims to serve many biotech companies. The Houston biotech and biopharmaceutical sector is mostly made up of small startups and innovation spun out of academic research institutions, Curran said. Those kinds of early-stage companies have different needs than established biopharmaceutical companies in Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area. K2bio aims to meet those needs to help biotech companies grow and stay in the Houston market, Tanabe said.
“We talk about Houston becoming the Third Coast — this helps us get to the next step,” Tanabe said.
K2bio is nearing completion on its roughly 28,000-square-foot facility, but the company has additional growth in mind. The firm is in negotiations with the landlord to take on two adjoining spaces for another 40,000 square feet, Jones said. The additional space would house more offices, more vivarium space and dedicated manufacturing space.
Houston Business Journal
From the Houston Business Journal: