‘Knowledge Clusters’ Are About to Fuel DFW Life Sciences Growth

Pharma relocations, venture capital, and $6 billion in the State of Texas CPRIT Fund are priming North Texas to be a life sciences mecca, says Transwestern's John Huff.

The pandemic has shown how important life sciences are to America’s health—and economic security. Now life science startup ventures are attracting investments across DFW, as pharma and medical device manufacturing return to the U.S.

John Huff, national managing director at Transwestern, explains why DFW is a growing center for entrepreneurial startup firms, academic research, and clinical and technical commercialization opportunities.

Huff is among the experts in our commercial real estate feature, “21 On 2021.” He shares his outlook on what’s next in a Q&A.

Dallas Innovates Q+A (Images: Istockphoto)How is the pandemic driving the future of life sciences?

Clearly, it has elevated the importance of continued government and commercial funding in this sector. It’s also evident that the U.S. was caught flat-footed by outsourcing key components of our pharma and medical device manufacturing abroad. The pandemic has exposed several weaknesses in that strategy. Our politicians and large U.S. companies are mobilizing to bring these key components back home. DFW’s central location and large industrial infrastructure is a natural fit to play a major role in capturing this demand.

What opportunities and challenges do you see in the region’s life sciences sector for the coming year?

North Texas is uniquely positioned with the size and diversity of our economy for success in the life sciences sector. The region’s growth, highly educated workforce, and entrepreneurial spirit make Dallas-Fort Worth a natural fit for recruitment and retainment of top talent within this space. We’re off to a great start with more than eight million square feet being used in DFW by life sciences companies. This is supplemented by a large presence of existing pharmaceutical companies that have chosen to relocate here. We have the largest concentration of venture capital companies in Texas combined with the $6 billion of capital allocated for the funding and recruitment of life science companies and research personnel by the State of Texas CPRIT Fund.

We’ll need to continue to invest in the acceleration and incubation of life science startup ventures operationally and in real estate infrastructure. One of the main ingredients is the creation of “knowledge clusters,” which are just now starting to take shape to attract top life science research professionals and companies. Academic research can interface and collide with entrepreneurial startup firms to facilitate commercialization opportunities for both clinical and technical discoveries. It’s clearly something that wants to grow here, with all the NIH grant funding and top academic research institutions rooted in our community.

How would you advise life sciences clients on how to handle change and uncertainty in the market?

The market fundamentals within the life sciences sector are very stable during this time of disruption and uncertainty within the broader economy. That bodes well with investors as to the resiliency of its tenant base. Protocols and best practices have been adapted to ensure the safety of its workforce and our industry is leading this change.

Are there any current or upcoming life sciences projects that you’re excited about?

Over the next 10 years, when I look at the fundamentals in DFW, I have the same level of excitement our industrial friends in the industry have. We have all the things needed to find success.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. A version of this story first published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

Sandra Engelland contributed to this report.

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