Voices

Bio Boom: Dallas-Fort Worth Is Emerging as a Hub for Biotech and Life Sciences

Biotechnology is alive and growing in DFW. The region recently ranked 6th on a list of top ten emerging life science clusters in the U.S.

Over the years, I’ve come to expect to see our region at or near the top of most “best cities” or “best places for” lists, particularly when the ranking is based on economics, growth, or corporate recruitment.

We lead the nation in population and job growth. We’re No.1 in both categories for 2019 and for the entire 2010 decade, for good reason.

Our region is a premier location in the U.S. for headquarters, manufacturers, and logistics. We’re home to an enviable roster of companies across major sectors like aerospace, automotive, data, energy, engineering, insurance, finance, food and beverage, retail, semiconductors, telecommunications, and transportation.

Eight Fortune 500 companies have decided to move headquarters here since 2004. The most recent is Charles Schwab, whose move to Westlake from San Francisco will take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

DFW is also out front with new and emerging sectors. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, big data, cybersecurity, and distributed ledger technology companies and jobs are here, and growing.

We have it all. Almost.

You have not seen Dallas at or near the top of any list of “best cities” or “best places for” when the ranking is based on life sciences or biotechnology.  Chances are we’re not on the list at all.

Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington D.C., Raleigh-Durham, New York, New Jersey, and a few others share that spotlight.

More than most sectors, biotech companies cluster when choosing where to build facilities, invest and create jobs, even if costs are higher. Boston, San Francisco, and the others offer the established and branded aggregate of great research universities, existing and significant biotech and life science companies, a big talent pool, lab space, patent generation, and funding from venture capital firms or the National Institutes of Health.

Yet in recent years, the Dallas Regional Chamber has led bids that advanced DFW as a finalist for new biotechnology manufacturing facilities by Genentech, Novartis, and a few others. We were in the game on the strength of our overall attributes as a great place to do business and a few stellar centers of biotech excellence like Alcon in Fort Worth and UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, the only academic medical center in the world to serve as home to six Nobel Laureates.

With a funding level of about $470 million annually, UT Southwestern Medical Center is our shining star. UT Southwestern conducts research and launches companies across a variety of fields including cancer, heart disease, and neuroscience; as well as training 3,600 medical professionals each year.

Yet we were not selected. Our biotech ecosystem was not as deep or evident compared to the winning locations. Now that’s changing quickly, for the better.

On Sept. 22, 2020,  biotech industry leader BioLabs announced that it is locating its first central U.S. location in  Dallas. BioLabs provides lab space and wrap-around services to incubate and accelerate biotech. BioLabs will operate in a 37,000 square-foot flexible life science coworking facility at Pegasus Park, developed by J. Small Investments, partnering with Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Pegasus Park is just north of downtown Dallas and is within walking distance of UT Southwestern Medical Center, a collaborator on the Park.

BioLabs’ other locations are in hotspots like Boston, New York, San Diego, and Raleigh-Durham; places where, for years, our own Dallas entrepreneurs, scientists, and researchers sometimes had to go to launch their enterprises.

Companies like Alcon, Astra Zeneca, Peloton Therapeutics, Reata Pharmaceuticals, and Taysha Gene Therapies are here in Dallas-Fort Worth, working on eye care, hyperkalemia, cancer, kidney disease, and diseases of the central nervous system. Other science in our region is focused on HIV, muscular dystrophy, brain research, and more. The University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth is conducting research in forensic genetics and Alzheimer’s. Texas A&M’s College of Dentistry in Dallas is nationally recognized for oral health and craniofacial research. As our region grows in population and diversity, researchers will be increasingly attracted here for clinical trials.

There are more than 60 companies and 27,000 jobs in biotechnology and life sciences in DFW.

McKesson, a Fortune 10 company and the nation’s largest pharmaceutical distributor, is now headquartered in Irving, for good reason.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport boasts a new 37,000-square-foot cold chain storage facility. It allows the refrigerated storage and rapid delivery to and from our region of temperature and time-sensitive pharmaceuticals and therapies. 

We have a lot of runway in the biotechnology sector in DFW, and our assets and reputation are building in a positive direction.

Objective third parties are taking note. In an October 2020 life science cluster report by CBRE, DFW was ranked 6th on a list of top ten emerging life science clusters in the U.S.

Biotechnology is alive and growing in DFW.

A version of this story first published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.


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Mike Rosa is Senior Vice President, Economic Development, for the Dallas Regional Chamber.

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