Biomedex Inc., the young Spokane company that hopes to launch a $200 million biomedical and biotechnology business park on the West Plains, has goals far more reaching than mere real estate development.
Launched quietly this year by a group of former executives of the predecessor of Hollister-Stier LLC and investors from here and the Seattle area, Biomedex wants to be the magnet that draws biotech ventures to Spokane, helping to foster an industry that has economic-development chieftains here salivating.
Biomedex President George M. Coleman says the company, which will be managed by people with lengthy experience in the pharmaceutical and financial industries, has begun marketing itself as the business- and regulatory-side partner that entrepreneurial scientists need to make their biotech startups succeed.
We looked at how medium and small biotech companies are made up. What they have and what dont they have, says Coleman, who left Hollister Stier, then part of Bayer Corp., in June of 1998. They typically have a physician or two, some bench scientists, and other technical people. What they dont have is people with a business background and people who have expertise in the regulatory process.
Biomedex, he says, wants to provide those types of expertise, and also a campus on which such companies can do business. Coleman has an option to buy, from Avista Corp., a 58-acre development site near the Boeing Co. plant on U.S. 2 west of Spokane, and hopes to trigger the development of the property into what tentatively is being called the Pacific Northwest Technology Park.
Initially, Biomedex plans to develop two 30,000-square-foot buildings on that land, which is zoned for industrial uses. Biomedex would occupy one of those buildings and a portion of the other. Space in the second building also tentatively would be leased to GenPrime Inc., a young Spokane biotech company, and New Light Industries Ltd., an 8-year-old Spokane high-tech company that develops and produces equipment to make holograms, says Coleman. Both those companies currently lease space near the proposed technology park.
Coleman says he and Biomedex hope eventually to hand off development of the rest of the park to a professional developer, who would work from a master plan Biomedex is preparing, and also are exploring partnerships with public and civic entities for the park. He says Biomedexs owners feel strongly about economic development in the Spokane area, but he adds that forging such public-private arrangements can be time consuming and politically difficult to achieve.
I dont want to start this in two years, Coleman says. I want to do it now. We will start it on a private basis initially, and then, if appropriate, look for a public component later.
If we cant put this project together in months, then time will pass us by, he adds. It will be in Boise or somewhere else.
Aside from its development plans and its main focus of helping startups, Biomedex plans to seek other biotech and biomedical opportunities, including acting as a distributor of medical devices, Coleman says. He says it also will try to partner with young ventures to make use of the lab at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute for products that can be taken to market quickly, without having to get federal regulatory approval first. Such efforts, he says, would provide the company with a strong revenue stream while it continues to work to attract tenants and clients to its park.
Biomedex currently is owned by Coleman, who formerly was director of manufacturing at the Bayer allergy products division here; Christopher V. Johnston, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., businessman with experience in finance and real estate; and Johnstons brother, Craig, an oral surgeon in Issaquah, Wash.
Craig Johnston will remain on the West Side and wont be active in the companys day-to-day operations. Chris Johnston, however, is moving to Spokane and will serve as Biomedexs chief financial officer, Coleman says. He says the company likely will seek other private investors in coming weeks.
The rest of the companys management team consists of Robert W. Pomrenke, director of sales and marketing, who had worked at the Hollister-Stier operation here for 20 years; John A. Carrier, director of logistics, another Hollister-Stier alumni and veteran of the pharmaceutical industry; and James L. Thompson, manager of technology and another former Hollister-Stier executive.
Biomedex also has hired as a consultant Gordon Budke, former managing partner of the Spokane office of the Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm and a longtime civic and economic-development leader here.
Coleman believes Biomedex can provide up-and-coming biotech and biomedical companies with the business expertise they might otherwise lack, and also perhaps guide them through the lengthy regulatory processes often required to bring new biotech and biomedical products to market. He says that scientifically based entrepreneurs often instead are forced to sell out to larger companies to get that expertise and guidance.
The space Biomedex plans to provide such companies also is an important piece of the equation, Coleman says. He says that the biotech industry is growing most rapidly in such West Coast metropolitan areas as the Puget Sound and the San Francisco Bay area, and finding affordable manufacturing space in both those markets is very difficult. Coleman says hes been told that demand for new biotech space in the Seattle area over the next three years is estimated at 3 million square feet, and that only 1 million square feet of space is expected to come available for such uses.
A new biotech and biomed campus in Spokanes relatively inexpensive West Plains area might be an attractive alternative to biotech startups in the Seattle area, he says.
We may not have the kind of research presence that Seattle has, but what we do have is proximity. You can be to Seattle in an hour, says Coleman. If we can combine proximity with another compelling reason to move here, like Biomedex, then we have a story we can start telling biotech companies about.
Talk of boosting Spokanes small biotechnology industry has increased in recent months. Washington State University scientists have said Spokane is ready for such growth and has many of the components to attract it, and the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and Spokane Area Economic Development Council have met to look at ways to promote biotechnology more aggressively.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE