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Record-Breaking Funding Elevates Denver-Boulder to Premier Life Sciences Market

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Robert Tavares

June 21, 2024 - 12:00 pm

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Denver-Boulder: The New Hub for Life Sciences Innovation

The Denver-Boulder region is swiftly becoming a major hub for the life sciences industry, driven by a surge in venture capital and government funding, a collaborative research environment, and a booming market for lab space. The area is attracting companies developing cutting-edge medical treatments and technologies, positioning it as a key player in the industry.

Rapid Growth of Qualified Workforce

The pool of qualified workers in life sciences is expanding much faster in the Denver-Boulder area than the national average. Over the past five years, the region has seen a 35% growth in life sciences workers, compared to 16% nationwide. This rapid growth is supported by local universities and research institutions that produce a steady stream of highly skilled graduates ready to contribute to the industry's advancement.

Significant Real Estate Transactions and Developments

In 2022, a notable real estate transaction in Boulder involved the purchase of 23 buildings for $625 million. These buildings are being converted into lab and tech space to meet the increasing demand. San Diego-based BioMed Realty, a significant player in the real estate market (acquired by Blackstone in 2016 for $8 billion), made headlines with this record-breaking purchase of Flatiron Park, a massive complex in Boulder. The 1 million square feet across 23 buildings are being converted to support the region's growing life sciences sector. Tim Schoen, BioMed Realty’s president and CEO, emphasized the strategic importance of this investment, highlighting Boulder’s robust innovation ecosystem, which includes research universities, scientists, venture capital, and critical infrastructure provided by BioMed Realty.

The Booming Market for Lab Space

According to commercial real estate group CBRE, 14 companies were seeking a cumulative 506,000 square feet of lab space across the Denver-Boulder market in 2023, which includes the neighboring city of Aurora. Additionally, the market saw 370,000 square feet of lab space completed and move-in ready, with another 560,000 square feet under construction or renovation. Schoen described Boulder as unique and explosive, noting its setting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the rapid growth of its innovation ecosystem over the last decade.

Increasing Funding and Investor Interest

Investors are increasingly taking notice of the Denver-Boulder region. Elyse Blazevich, president and CEO of the Colorado Bioscience Association, highlighted that the ecosystem has raised over a billion dollars for the past seven consecutive years. Early-stage funding in Colorado in 2023 grew faster than in other life sciences markets nationwide. Founded in 2003, the Bioscience Association supports the growth of life sciences, focusing on access to capital, education, networking, and more. Blazevich noted significant increases in pre-seed ventures, series A, and series B funding from 2022 to 2023. Series A and B funding grew by $53 million, or 28%, year over year, while pre-seed funding surged by 163%, increasing by $18 million during the same period.

Top U.S. Life Sciences Real Estate Market

A recent CBRE report found Denver-Boulder to be the top U.S. life sciences real estate market, fueled by record investment from venture capitalists and the National Institutes of Health. The report also found that the pool of qualified workers in life sciences is growing much faster in the region than the national average, growing 35% over the past five years compared to 16% growth for the U.S. overall. This trend underscores the region’s increasing attractiveness for life sciences companies looking to establish a presence in a vibrant and supportive environment.

Entrepreneurial Success Stories

The recent surge in venture capital flowing into Denver-Boulder builds on the area’s proven track record of success over the past several decades. In 1998, entrepreneur Kevin Koch co-founded biotech company Array BioPharma in Boulder. The company was acquired by Pfizer for $10.64 billion in 2019, and now Koch is co-founder and CEO of clinical-stage startup Edgewise Therapeutics. Edgewise develops therapies for rare muscle disorders and generated net proceeds of $186.1 million in its initial public offering in March 2021. Starting small, Edgewise was initially based in an incubator within the University of Colorado, leveraging local talent and resources to grow. Today, Edgewise occupies 28,000 square feet in Boulder, with plans to expand further and hire more workers in the coming years. Koch credits Boulder’s history of research into DNA and RNA in the 1980s as key to attracting capital and establishing the region as a life sciences hub. With the support of top venture firms, Edgewise Therapeutics has raised more than half a billion dollars, securing $550 million in cash runway through 2027.

Research and Innovation at Aurora

Aurora, Denver’s biggest suburb, is the epicenter of life sciences research in the region. The 256-acre complex is home to the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, which receives $700 million in annual grant funding. Dan LaBarbera, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and founding director of the medical campus’s Center for Drug Discovery, emphasized the center’s role in bridging the gap between academia, industry, and clinical applications. Founded in 2021, the center develops drugs for a wide range of diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer’s, using state-of-the-art technology including robots and 3D bioprinters. LaBarbera highlighted the center’s use of 3D printing technology to create complex tissues that mimic aspects of human disease, significantly expediting the drug development process. Historically, it took roughly 10 to 15 years for a drug to move from discovery phase to FDA approval. However, with advanced technologies, this timeline can now be shortened to six to eight years. The center’s goal is to collaborate with the pharmaceutical industry to develop innovative potential drug therapies, rather than compete with them. By shortening the timeline from drug discovery to treatment, the center helps startups and existing companies get breakthrough medications to patients faster.

Conclusion

The Denver-Boulder region’s rapid emergence as a major hub for the life sciences industry is a testament to the combined efforts of local universities, research institutions, venture capitalists, and real estate developers. The area’s unique setting, supportive innovation ecosystem, and significant investments in lab space and research facilities have created a thriving environment for life sciences companies. As the region continues to attract top talent and funding, its role in developing cutting-edge medical treatments and technologies is set to grow even more prominent in the coming years. The collaborative efforts and strategic investments in the Denver-Boulder region are paving the way for groundbreaking advancements in the life sciences industry, making it a key player on the national and global stage.