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Global life sciences company to invest $97 million to expand its clinical research operations in the Richmond region

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Global life sciences company Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is planning to invest $97 million to expand its clinical research operations in the Richmond region in response to increased demand for its services.

The company will create three bioanalytical labs — two in Henrico County and one in Richmond — over the next three years, adding about 500 new workers to its local workforce of more than 1,200 professionals.

The bulk of the expansion will take place in the immunochemistry and chromatography areas as well as subsequent enhancements in biomarker and vaccine sciences, the company said. The facilities will support increasing demand across biopharma for laboratory services to accelerate drug development.

Thermo Fisher’s announcement expands the local laboratory operations that it acquired in December with the purchase of PPD Inc. in a deal valued at $17.4 billion plus the assumption debt.

PPD, formerly called Pharmaceutical Product Development, operates a bioanalytical laboratory on Dabney Road in Henrico. It also has local administrative offices at One Holland Place on Staples Mill Road. The company uses more than 300,000 square feet of space.

Thermo Fisher now plans to expand by creating two new bioanalytical labs in Henrico — one by renovating the former Toys R Us building at 8700 Quioccasin Road across from Regency mall and the other by occupying space at 2250 Dabney Road near its existing Henrico lab.

The company also will establish a third bioanalytical lab at the Virginia Bio+Tech Park in downtown Richmond.

The expansion bodes well for the Richmond region and its growing presence of pharmaceutical and life sciences companies and manufacturers, said Leonard Sledge, the city’s economic development director.

“I think today’s announcement continues to demonstrate the strength of the life sciences industry in the greater Richmond region,” Sledge said. “As much as we’re able to continue to demonstrate our ability to collaborate and grow the life sciences industry within and across our borders, it creates economic opportunities for everybody.”

Anthony J. Romanello, executive director of the Henrico Economic Development Authority, said Thermo Fisher’s announcement speaks to the ability of multiple localities collaborating on the project.

“The fact that we’ve got a life sciences company that is doing such important work and they continue to expand in our region, it’s just really good for the entire Richmond region. It speaks to our business environment. It speaks to our labor environment that they continue to want to grow here,” Romanello said.

The Richmond region has more than 30 pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers, said Chandra Briggman, president and CEO of Activation Capital, the nonprofit associated with the bio tech park that supports the startup business community through grants and other services.

“Having a well-established life sciences services firm like Thermo Fisher Scientific’s clinical research business move to the Virginia Bio+Tech Park will further strengthen the region as a biopharma research and innovation hub,” she said in a statement.

The average salary for the 500-plus employees expected to be hired is $62,395, Romanello said. “These are high-paying, lab-type jobs,” he said.

Over the next three years, Thermo Fisher expects to add nearly 150,000 square feet of space to its existing portfolio in the region.

Work has been underway since last summer to renovate and expand the former Toys R Us building. About 15,814 square feet has been added onto the front of the existing 43,131-square-foot store building. (The Toys R Us chain built the Quioccasin Road store in 1981 and operated there until 2012, when the retailer opened a new store across from the Short Pump Town Center, which eventually closed.)

Thermo Fisher’s second new Henrico lab would be at 2250 Dabney Road. That space is currently occupied by another user, then it will need to be renovated for lab space, Romanello said.

In Richmond, Thermo Fisher will take over about 20,000 square feet in the 262,000-square-foot Biotech 8 building at 737 N. Fifth St., Sledge said. That building in the Virginia Bio+Tech Park had been the former downtown headquarters of bankrupt blood-testing lab Health Diagnostic Laboratory.

“We have a rich history in the Richmond and Henrico County region, a talent hub with respected universities, and an attractive place for our employees to live and work,” said David M. Johnston, senior vice president and president of research for Thermo Fisher, in a statement.

“We value our strong collaborative relationship with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Henrico County and the City of Richmond,” he said. “These vital relationships are an important reason our laboratories employ more than 1,200 professionals and that we have expanded our bioanalytical, biomarker and vaccine sciences operations to include more than 300,000 square feet of scientific work space. Investing in clinical research is essential to delivering on our promise of helping develop life-changing medicines for patients in need.”

This is the second major expansion planned by PPD in recent years.

In September 2019, the company announced a $63.7 million expansion to its bioanalytical laboratory on Dabney Road, adding 200 new jobs at the time.

The lab has grown and operated in Henrico under different owners since it was founded in 1985 as Cal Lab East, an East Coast division of California Analytical Laboratory. The ownership and name of the laboratory changed several times in the 1980s and 1990s because of various mergers and acquisitions in the industry. The Henrico facility became part of PPD in 1996 as part of the company’s acquisition of Applied Bioscience International.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Henrico Economic Development Authority, the city of Richmond and the Virginia Bio+Tech Park to secure the projects.

Then-Gov. Ralph Northam had approved a $1 million performance-based grant from the Virginia Investment Performance program, an incentive that encourages capital investment by existing Virginia companies, for the Henrico expansion. Northam also approved $2 million from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist Henrico and $151,952 for the Richmond project.

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