IDRI Makes Move From Old First Hill Digs to Shiny New SLU

Xconomy Seattle — 

The Infectious Disease Research Institute is probably the least-visible global health organization in Seattle, but now it’s moving its growing staff to a place where all the cool kids in global health can’t miss it—South Lake Union.

IDRI, the nonprofit global health R&D center, said this week it is moving from its long-term home on Seattle’s First Hill to a bigger and more modern facility in South Lake Union, at 1616 Eastlake Avenue East. The organization has grown four-fold in the past six years, bringing its total headcount to about 115 employees, says Curt Malloy, IDRI’s senior vice president. The move is scheduled to occur in mid-2013, right when the organization plans to celebrate its 20th anniversary and raise its public profile, CEO Stewart Parker says.

“We are interested in increasing awareness of IDRI in every way, and that includes our physical space,” Parker says.

Stewart Parker

The nonprofit was founded by immunologist Steve Reed in 1993, and now has an annual budget of about $25 million—half of which comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, while much of the rest comes from federal research grants. The institute has been steadily adding capabilities for vaccine research and development, low-cost diagnostics, and early stage drug discovery. It has a focus on diseases of the developing world like tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and others.

While IDRI has rarely made headlines over the years, its work is well known in the biotech industry. Reed built on his work at IDRI to co-found Corixa and Immune Design, and has infused IDRI with an applied science ethic. Just this month, the organization moved a tuberculosis vaccine candidate way beyond the lab bench, all the way into its first clinical trial.

By moving into South Lake Union, IDRI will be within walking distance of many of its peers and collaborators at the Gates Foundation, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and PATH.

The new facility should help IDRI make its workspace more efficient, Parker says, by getting most of the scientific staff on the same floor. The new space will be equipped to have the labs typical of most research centers, but is also being set up to manufacture small-scale quantities of vaccine-boosting compounds called adjuvants in accordance with industrial Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).

As someone who works in the same current building complex as IDRI, and has visited 1616 Eastlake many times for interviews, there’s no doubt that the new place is nicer. It’s being configured to provide IDRI with more room to grow, and should help it over the long term with recruiting more scientists, Parker says.

“We even think our science will accelerate, because we’re around so many colleagues and because the space will be so much more efficient,” Parker says.