Institute for Systems Biology Makes it Official: It’s Moving to Seattle’s South Lake Union

The worst kept secret in the local biotech real estate market is now official: The Institute for Systems Biology is moving to Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, into the modern building once occupied by Merck’s Rosetta Inpharmatics unit.

Leroy Hood, the biotech pioneer who heads up the Institute for Systems Biology, told me back in March that he had set his sights on the Rosetta building for his future growth plans. Now the Institute has signed a lease there on 140,000 square feet of space at 401 Terry Avenue North, which has enough room to house 330 employees starting in the spring of 2011.

The nonprofit Institute for Systems Biology has been bursting with growth the past couple of years, and outgrew its labs and offices near Gas Works Park on the north side of Lake Union. The Institute lives mostly off its ability to win competitive federal research grants—which can be a tenuous existence—but the Institute has gotten financially strong enough over the past couple years to make a move on a bold property like the former Rosetta building that was developed by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate.

A turning point for the Institute came in June 2008 when it secured a five-year, $100 million commitment from the government of Luxembourg to test Hood’s vision of “P4 Medicine,” which stands for predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. In January, an independent review of research institutes around the world said the Institute for Systems Biology produced the highest impact scientific publications of any U.S. research center from 2003 through 2007. And in March, the Institute said it received a $6 million gift from an unnamed California venture capitalist to further its research in personalized medicine, biofuels, and global health.

The Institute’s annual budget has grown to about $50 million this fiscal year, and it expects to have about 500 employees within 10 years.

“The Terry Avenue North building more than doubles our current space, permits us to consolidate employees under one roof, and provides easy access to some of the most effective research institutions in Washington state,” Hood said in a statement. “It will also enable us to acquire new faculty with critical skills in systems science (biology, medicine, technology and computation/mathematics), as well as provide the space for future growth and the creation of new strategic partnerships.”

Leroy Hood

Leroy Hood

For those who follow the local real estate scene, this puts the Institute closer to the heart of the action, at least in billionaire Paul Allen’s vision for the future of the city. The Institute will be walking distance from Seattle Biomedical Research Institute; PATH, the nonprofit global health catalyst; the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Novo Nordisk‘s inflammation research center; Amazon‘s new headquarters; the University of Washington’s branch campus loaded with stem cell researchers, and the Accelerator, the biotech startup machine that maintains close ties with the Institute for Systems Biology.

It’s a homecoming in a way. Hood was a co-founder of Rosetta Inpharmatics in 1996, along with Stephen Friend and Lee Hartwell. Friend led the operation from its beginnings at an office park in Kirkland, WA, took it public, and sold the company to Merck in 2001 for more than $600 million. Merck lavished resources on the Rosetta operation for years, saying its insights into gene expression and computation could help the pharma giant screen out winners from losers early in the drug development process, and possibly help researchers get the right drug to the right patients. Merck set up Rosetta in the multi-million facility developed by Vulcan and Schnitzer West in 2004, and eventually employed about 300 people there. But Merck pulled the plug on its Rosetta operation as part of global budget cuts in the fall of 2008, announcing plans to move some of its researchers to other locations, and close the Seattle facility.

I’m scheduled to talk with Hood later this morning and will update this space shortly after.

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One response to “Institute for Systems Biology Makes it Official: It’s Moving to Seattle’s South Lake Union”

  1. I just got this comment in from Ken Stuart, the founder and president of Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, on his new neighbors:

    “We welcome ISB’s move to South Lake Union. As one of the first organizations to move to the neighborhood more than six years ago, we’re excited to see non-profit research institutions and biotech companies arrive. Adding ISB to the mix is terrific and enhances the opportunities for additional partnerships and collaborations for all of us.”