Topping-off ceremonies, in which workers place the last piece of structural steel for new building, have become run-of-the-mill over the past decade in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. But the recent event held by Adaptive Biotechnologies carried extra symbolic significance, due to the events swirling around it.
The pandemic has emptied large swaths of the surrounding neighborhood, including Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. (Construction workers and officials wore masks during the ceremony.) Meanwhile, new questions are emerging about the long-term role of Seattle and other traditional tech hubs in the innovation economy.
But biotech in Seattle “is just thriving right now,” said Chad Robins, the Adaptive Biotechnologies CEO, as he made his way to the ceremony at the new building, being developed by Alexandria Real Estate Equities at 1165 Eastlake Avenue E.
Part of the reason, he said, is the intersection of biotech and technology in the city.
Adaptive, which spun out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, works closely with Microsoft as part of its long-term quest to diagnose multiple diseases from a single blood test. Microsoft and Adaptive have been working in recent months to develop a new diagnostic test for COVID-19 as an extension of their partnership.
“The convergence of biotechnology and technology in this city is a phenomenal aspect of what’s available to us,” Robins said.
In a recent report on life sciences hubs, real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield cited Adaptive’s partnership with Microsoft as an example of “a growing alliance between life sciences and tech companies” that “has set Seattle apart as an emerging hub.”
Adaptive is also partnering with Amgen to develop a new drug to treat and prevent COVID-19, using Adaptive’s system for sequencing the human immune system.
In recent years, demand has been high for a limited amount of lab and suitable office space for biotech companies in the city. Vacancy rates for lab space in Seattle fell below 3% earlier this year, according to the Cushman & Wakefield report, vs. more than 7.1% in 12 key markets covered in the report.
Adaptive announced its 100,000-square-foot lease of the facility in the fall of 2019, and plans to move in after the building is completed in about a year. The new facility gave Adaptive an opportunity to rethink its lab space to accommodate the needs of its current scientific workflows and processes, Robins said.
The building will also serve as Adaptive’s new headquarters, tripling its footprint in the city. It’s about a six-minute walk from Adaptive’s current space at 1551 Eastlake Ave. in Seattle, where the company plans to retain its presence.
Robins said the new building “is just the next, natural phase of growth for us and our immune-driven medicine platform.”
Adaptive has grown by more than 200 people over the past year, with more than 500 employees overall. Its employees who are able to do their jobs from home are working remotely, and the company says it has been maintaining strict safety protocols for researchers and others who need to work in its labs.
The company is not the only key member of the life sciences sector expanding in the city. Despite recent cutbacks, Fred Hutch is proceeding with plans to move into about 275 scientists and staff into 106,000-square feet in the renovated Seattle Steam Plant, the former home of biotech company Zymogenetics. The new space will expand Fred Hutch’s wet lab capacity by 15%. Move-in is set for late September and October, according to Fred Hutch officials.
Founded in 2009, Adaptive went public on the Nasdaq stock market in June 2019. It recently raised $240 million in a follow-on stock offering.
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