NJ’s Expanding Innovation Ecosystem

NJ is creating an enhanced innovation ecosystem against the backdrop of exponential advancements in science and tech.

Fueled in part by unfolding scientific breakthroughs in cell and gene therapy as well as technology development overall, New Jersey’s life sciences industry, health systems, state government and academic institutions are collaborating to bolster our innovation ecosystem. With at least seven separate locales throughout the state poised for innovation-realm growth, New Jersey is working toward victory in competing with renowned juggernauts such as Massachusetts’ Kendall Square and Philadelphia’s uCity Square. Here is a review of the state’s innovation hubs and facilities:

New Brunswick

Commenting on phase one of the New Jersey Health + Life Sciences Exchange (HELIX) in downtown New Brunswick, which is scheduled to open in late 2025, Christopher Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), says new spaces cannot be built soon enough: “The challenging thing is that I get a phone call every day from a company that wants to move in, and [the facility] is not built yet. There is pent up demand in New Jersey for this type of facility.”

That first HELIX phase includes the construction of a 12-story, 573,400-square-foot building comprised of the New Jersey Innovation HUB, which will feature both an innovation “makerspace” area and startup companies in addition to new research labs for Rutgers University’s translational research endeavors. Also on site will be a new medical education facility for the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and separate tenants will include RWJ Barnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health, Rutgers and Princeton universities, DEVCO and Middlesex County.

HELIX’s second building is expected to be a home for life science and technology-driven tenants, while a third building is anticipated to be office space for support-services such as accounting, consulting, law and venture capital firms. An additional 37-story HELIX residential building will eventually complete the complex.

One of HELIX’s overarching aims is collaboration, with Paladino explaining: “This is an effort to take academic science, the startup economy, medical education, and the horsepower of two major health systems to foster the growth of companies … with discoveries being made here in New Jersey.”

Discoveries will likewise be generated at the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, which will also be in New Brunswick, and is a collaboration between RWJBarnabas Health, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and DEVCO. The $750 million, 510,000-square-foot structure will not only offer inpatient and outpatient cancer care, but it will include state-of-the-art research laboratories where scientific findings can be directly translated to patients. It is expected to open in 2024.

Merck’s Former World Headquarters

Science and innovation will additionally thrive in a different corner of the state – at Merck’s former world headquarters in Kenilworth, which was purchased in February via a joint venture between Onyx Equities LLC and Machine Investment Group LLC. The 108-acre campus, which includes almost two million square feet of biologics, and research and development buildings, will soon become home to an array of smaller life sciences companies.

The transformation to accommodate smaller companies can be relatively easily accomplished since the site not only has life-sciences-friendly power requirements and floor-loading designs, but Merck’s original campus design can be easily segregated into separate sections, making it ideal for new tenants, explains John Saraceno Jr., co-founder and managing principal of Onyx Equities LLC.

Prospective tenants have shown interest since the deal’s late February announcement. Saraceno tells New Jersey Business Magazine, “We’ve done more showings on this campus in a month than some of our properties have seen in a year; I think demand for this type of space is still very strong. We haven’t signed anything yet (as of mid-April), but we are working aggressively with a couple of users that are very interested in what we have.”

ON3 in Nutley and Clifton

Life sciences companies are also interested in Roche’s former 116-acre world headquarters in Nutley and Clifton, a complex being redeveloped by Prism Capital Partners. The reimagining already includes major tenants such as a Quest Diagnostics’ flagship laboratory, biotech Y-mAbs Therapeutics, pharmaceutical giant Eisai, Inc., the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, and The Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), for example. An overall 1.1 million square feet of future research and development space is planned. Among other features, a Marriott AC / Element combined hotel and four nationally known retail pad users will also grace the site.

Again, time is of the essence in New Jersey. Echoing others’ sentiments regarding the dearth of life sciences real estate in the state is Edwin H. Cohen, principal at Prism Capital Partners. He says, “… the general life sciences market is still a very robust; that’s been an expansion market. However, the biggest problem you have is that there’s not enough ready-to-occupy space to satisfy the demand.”

Liberty Science Center

Planning and action is also occurring at Jersey City-based Liberty Science Center, which is not only celebrating its 30th anniversary with an anticipated 800,000 visitors in 2023 alone, but it is additionally building SciTech Scity.

Liberty Science Center and SciTech Scity President and CEO Paul Hoffman tells New Jersey Business Magazine that SciTech Scity’s goal is to “foster the creation and growth of companies that use science and technology to make the world a radically better place,” adding: “SciTech Scity aims to be an internationally recognized community where businesses test – and residents and visitors experience – new science-based products and services before they come to market.”

This includes, but is not limited to, Edge Works, a planned eight-story incubation hub for SciTech Scity comprised of the Co-Creation Center, which Liberty Science Center describes as a 40,000-square-foot state-of-the-art conference center and “bleeding-edge tech exhibition gallery.” The Works is also a SciTech Scity component and will feature “60,000 square feet of R&D labs, workspaces, and co-working areas for dozens of startups in addition to skunkworks suites, product showcases, consumer testing labs, and offices for well-established companies.”

SciTech Scity will additionally showcase Liberty Science Center itself, as well as Liberty Science Center High School, Scholars Village residential housing, and The Public Commons (four outdoor acres).

Innovation at SciTech Scity will initially focus on healthcare. Hoffman says that SciTech Scity will not only collaborate with partners throughout New Jersey, but it will also work with Israel-based Sheba Medical Center, a renowned hospital system located outside of Tel Aviv; Sheba will utilize one floor of Edge Works to create a hospital-of-the-future simulation.

Rowan University

The future of medicine and science is also alive at Glassboro-based Rowan University. “Life sciences is the future of the economy,” explains Ali A. Houshmand, PhD, president of Rowan University. “The physical sciences have been exhausted; we are now in the age of technology where the advances in medicine are so magnificent that it’s possible that over the next generation or even less, all the major diseases such as cancer and diabetes … will be eliminated, and the longevity of human beings is going to increase significantly.”

Houshmand adds, “We believe that as a public institution, we should be at the forefront of creating that knowledge and helping advance the whole technology that we use in medicine.”

Such knowledge creation is in the works: Rowan is in the process of designing and building a 50,000-square-foot research facility on its west campus where researchers from both Virtua Health and Rowan University will collaborate on novel medical research; separately, the Rowan Virtua School of Translational Biomedical Engineering and Sciences aims to recruit 25 faculty and researchers by 2025, and eventually grow even further.

There is more activity: Not only were 272 students admitted to the relatively new Rowan Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2022 in an ongoing venture, but Rowan is also creating The Schreiber School of Veterinary Medicine, which broke ground in April.

The Cove in Jersey City / Bell Works in Holmdel

Somewhat similar plans are rampant throughout the state. In downtown Jersey City, The Cove JC, a multi-phase waterfront redevelopment project, which will include 1.4 million square feet of lab and tech space in addition to 1.6 million square feet of residential, is underway. It will feature 30,000 square feet of onsite retail space and services. A joint venture between Argent Ventures and H&R REIT, the campus’ first phase will encompass two academic/laboratory/teaching facilities and a commercial life science building totaling up to 833,899 square feet of space.

At a completely different site, Bell Works in Holmdel – the two-million-square-foot former Bell Labs site that has since been reimagined by Somerset Development – a range of high-tech companies including, but not limited to, artificial intelligence-centric Avlino Inc., as well as enterprise web strategy, design, and development company FFW, help comprise the building’s array of diverse tenants.

NJ Ignite

Success for various New Jersey innovation ecosystem sites can arrive in different ways, and The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) has been instrumental in many instances, including using its NJ Ignite program to help support coworking

spaces Princeton Innovation Center Biolabs (PICb)(Princeton) and CoWork Street (Camden). NJEDA partner accelerator program NJ Accelerate has likewise assisted HAX LLC, a startup development program for pre-seed hard-tech companies; HAX and Princeton-based venture capital firm SOSV signed a 10-year lease in 2022 on a 35,000-square-foot facility at 707 Broad Street in Newark. (See story on state assistance on page 32 for more details on the HAX initiative).

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