It Starts with One: Stephen Tang and the Future of Biotechnology in Philadelphia

It Starts with One: Stephen Tang and the Future of Biotechnology in Philadelphia

A native of Wilmington, Delaware (Philadelphia’s neighbor to the south), and the child of two scientists, Stephen Tang was well aware of Philly’s University City Science Center, the nation’s first and largest urban research park. Little did he know that he would serve as its CEO for 10 years and in the process change Philadelphia’s scientific research landscape and set it up for major growth well into the 21st century.

Tang’s impact on the Science Center’s growth from 2008 to 2018 cannot be overstated. Under his tenure the center transformed from a traditional real estate–focused research park to an innovation powerhouse. Perhaps most vitally, the Science Center’s campus in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood expanded from 17 to 27 acres and creating a new complex named uCity Square. The innovation-focused development springing to life under Tang’s vision promises to be a game changer: “The kind of vibe we’d like to have here is similar to what they have in Mission Bay, San Francisco, where they have a residential component tied to the actual office and lab for innovation,” said Tang. “It’s actually something that goes beyond what iconic places like Kendall Square have. Kendall Square has great space for labs and offices, but not much in terms of residential or retail. I think that we’re hoping to bring all that together.”

In addition to living and retail space the project includes

  • 3711 Market, a 154,845-square-foot building with offices and wet labs;
  • 3737 Market, which at 14 stories has 334,000 square feet of clinical, medical, wet lab, and office spaces. It’s anchored by Penn Presbyterian Medical Center of University of Pennsylvania’s Health System (as well as Spark Therapeutics before they sold to Roche earlier this year); and
  • 3675 Market, where the Science Center will occupy 20,000 square feet of office space for its headquarters. Another 5,000 square feet are set aside for First Hand (an educational initiative that combines STEM and the arts) and 127,000 square feet for offices and labs for the Cambridge Innovation Center.

Also joining the fun at 3675 Market is Amicus Therapeutics. Amicus’s commitment in the building totals 75,000 square feet of office and lab space over three floors and is expected to be open in the second half of 2019. The space will eventually accommodate up to 200 employees. “We’re thrilled to welcome Amicus Therapeutics to 3675 Market,” says the Science Center’s new president and CEO Steve Zarrilli. “The establishment of the Global Research and Gene Therapy Center of Excellence is a testament to the vitality of the vibrant community here at uCity Square and Philadelphia as a leader in biotechnology and gene therapy research.”

But uCity Square is about more than just big players moving in. “Over the past couple of years we’ve spoken about the pillars of not just innovation but access and inclusion,” said Tang. “Because 3675 [Market] will be the physical manifestation of our connection to the neighborhoods, my hope is that we can be an inspiring place for entrepreneurs to participate and find their way into well-paying jobs and participate. If we do that, we’ll begin to chip away at the disparity. I believe we’re ideally situated to make that happen.”

Between uCity Square, Schuylkill Yards (a 20-year, $3.5 billion project to create a hub for technology and life sciences), and Penn Center for Innovation (created in 2014 and has facilitated at least 24 start-up spinoffs), Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood may be the most exciting biotech region in the country.

Stephen Tang: it starts with one.

To learn more about the history of biotechnology, visit the Science History Institute at 315 Chestnut Street while you’re in Philadelphia!  Or check us out online at sciencehistory.org.

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