Why this company picked NC for a $110 million investment

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A San-Fransisco gene therapy company knew it wanted a new base outside of California, and it says the Triangle is an obvious next home with the exploding sector of life sciences forming a certified hub in the region.

On Tuesday, California-based Audentes Therapeutics announced it has tapped Sanford as the next location for its second large-scale manufacturing operation.

The new operations will bring a $109.4 million investment expected to create more than jobs that pay more than twice the average wage in the county. Average wages of the new Audentes jobs are reported at $83,900. Average wages in Lee County are about $41,800.

But besides being just the latest gene-therapy windfall for the greater Triangle region, the decision by Audentes is further evidence the region is forming into the preferred hub for gene therapy manufacturing.

In fact, Donald Wuchterl, Audentes senior vice president of technical operations, says the company decided it wanted a second base of operations outside of California – because of a desire for redundant manufacturing capacity – and actively considered all life science hubs in the country, including giants like Boston.

“We decided we should go nationwide and look at all these life science clusters,” he says. “We put together a long list of criteria to evaluate the regional areas.”

He says high on that list were typical factors the Triangle is lauded for, such as access to talent and proximity to educational institutions, but also benefits for the company’s employees.

“Since we were in San Francisco we wanted to acknowledge that it would be nice to build a new facility in a place where people, if they chose to, could potentially migrate to a better cost of living,” Wuchterl says. “We [also] wanted to be in a location where we felt like we were a part of the community, not just another 100,000-square-foot building sitting in a business park.”

But according to Wuchterl, the defining characteristic that pushed the Triangle to the top of the list was its existing industry.

“The fact is that the Raleigh-Durham regional area is not just a life science cluster but it’s becoming a life science manufacturing sort of force,” he says. “While other areas around the country have manufacturing, it’s not in the quantity and the quality that we have in this area.”

Wuchterl noted his company’s decision was boosted in part by two other gene therapy companies, bluebird and AveXis, deciding to expand in the Triangle in recent years.

Audentes focuses on Adeno-Associated Virus (AAV) genetic medicines, which puts it in the same line of work as multiple Triangle operations including Asklepsios Biopharmaceuticals – whose founder, Dr. Jude Samulski, is credited with pioneering AAV as a gene therapeutic tool.

Wuchterl says having more companies focused on their line of specific gene therapy manufacturing is a net win for all when it comes to innovation and workforce.

“We recognize that kind of building this sort of fraternity of companies in the area that are specializing in this can only pay dividends,” he says. “A good example is one of the things that really surprised us is when we toured [N.C. State University] they said ‘Oh by the way, we’ve got an AAV manufacturing course.’ We’re like, ‘you’re kidding, already?'”

Source: Triangle Business Journal