PDC, OHSU work to expand Portland bioscience industry

The Portland Development Commission (PDC) will provide $3.5 million in funding to the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) in an effort to expand the budding bioscience industry located in the South Waterfront district.

The Portland Development Commission (PDC) will provide $3.5 million in funding to the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) in an effort to expand the budding bioscience industry located in the South Waterfront district.

The South Waterfront district is a part of the North Macadam urban renewal area, a developing neighborhood of southern Portland that runs along the western banks of the Willamette River.

A $2 million portion of the grant will be used for tenement renovation and other construction-related spending, said Colin Sears, economic development manager for the PDC. The remaining funds will be used for the recruitment and research of potential firms that will migrate to or start up in Portland as the city’s bioscience industry expands.

Sears said that the development of Portland’s bioscience community will hopefully increase the amount of overall business conducted in Portland. He said that the collaboration of companies would be similar to the bioscience industry of Cambridge, Mass., where many bioscience firms are housed so as to work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“This collaborative development will hopefully bring a lot of new business to Portland’s economy,” Sears said. “Bioscience has, for the last 20 years, been a big driver for businesses, and the relationship between bioscience firms and nearby researching universities is noticeable in things like federal grants and the health of a city’s economy.”

A key focus of the development will be transportation into the South Waterfront area, OHSU’s South Waterfront project director Mark Williams said. He said that OHSU is currently working with the city of Portland to plan for light rail access into the area, expand the Portland streetcar that currently connects the South Waterfront and Pearl districts, and to consider connecting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and OHSU via light rail.

Williams also said that OHSU hopes to connect their own resources with the resources of OMSI, along with the resources of the medical programs at Portland Community College and Portland State University.

“We’re thinking long term [at OHSU] about how to create a synergistic approach to Oregon’s bioscience industry, ” Williams said. “We feel optimistic that the city-wide collaboration will serve bioscience well.”

The Health and Healing Center at OHSU currently has four floors dedicated to bioscience research, according to Williams. Sears said that the development of further bioscience research in the South Waterfront makes sense from a business standpoint because companies in that industry generally congregate near research facilities.

Arundeep Pradhan, director for technology and research collaborations at OHSU, said that the South Waterfront area is rich with bioscience development and that the joint effort between OHSU and the PDC to expand Oregon’s bioscience industry is the result of both economic and research interests for the South Waterfront area.

“OHSU is interested in collaborating with the PDC, among others, to create a robust bioscience industry for Oregon,” Pradhan said. “The PDC funding will enable this to happen over the next several years.”

Pradhan said that OHSU has the largest concentration of bioscience research in Oregon and that this local industry will benefit considerably from the PDC’s involvement. The developments planned for bioscience expansion in the area will span at least five years, according to Williams.

“It’s not like building a condo when you develop research buildings,” Williams said. “There are all kinds of special guts that need to be in place for a research facility to function.”

The development of new bioscience research facilities and Portland’s expansion within the bioscience industry is still in its early phases, according to Williams and Pradhan. Pradhan said that the expansion of bioscience laboratories is a long-term process and that the planning for such facilities and programs is done with the consideration that new developments often require five to 10 years to come to fruition.

The South Waterfront district is currently under heavy construction as part of an effort to increase the amount of available commercial and housing spaces in that district. OHSU opened their Health and Healing Center in the South Waterfront district last October and finished massive construction of an aerial tram connecting the center to OHSU’s main campus, located on Marquam Hill, in January.

Pradhan said that the next few years will be integral to the bioscience community of Portland, particularly regarding the details about the multi-party effort being planned to expand this community. This expansion extends beyond the PDC and OHSU, with groups such as the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, the Oregon Bioscience Association and the Oregon Translational Research and Drug Discovery Institute also getting involved.

“The development of Portland’s bioscience industry is much too large for just one entity to be involved,” Pradhan said.

OHSU’s Health and Healing Center is the only structure currently owned by the university in the South Waterfront district. Pradhan said that currently there are no plans to build any new structures, though the university is considering the development of new facilities along the developing Schnitzer Campus, a stretch of land north of the Health and Healing Center, also located in the Macadam urban re-growth area.