Shared biosciences lab would help attract investment and talent to the region

Three of the leading companies in Northern Kentucky’s growing life sciences sector are seeking a new, shared laboratory they say will accelerate their growth and the growth of the high-tech industry overall.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has included $10 million in his proposed two-year budget to design and build the lab, which would be located in Covington at a to-be-determined site.

The lab would be a life sciences research and development facility shared by the three companies lobbying for it: Bexion Pharmaceuticals, Gravity Diagnostics, and CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services.

Company leaders say the region needs the facility, which is called a wet lab because it would have the plumbing, ventilation, equipment, and other infrastructure to enable the handling and experimentation with chemicals, drugs, and other biomaterials.

The final word on the state funding for the lab is up to the Kentucky General Assembly, which is meeting now to pass a state budget.

As proposed, the lab, at 10,000 square feet, would also be large enough to house startup companies in the biotech arena, and provide a hub for fostering connections and the exchange of ideas among researchers in this space.

“A wet lab is more than a physical space with tangible equipment,” says Gravity Diagnostics CEO Tony Remington. “It’s a culture, an experience. We benefitted from such a place, and we want to do the same for others.”

Launched in 2015, Gravity Diagnostics started as a small lab, then grew exponentially as it responded to the urgent need for processing Covid-19 tests. Employment grew to nearly 500 in a matter of months, including 300 in Covington. It expanded its space tenfold when it moved last year two blocks to a larger space on Russell Street in Covington, in the same building that still houses Bexion.

Bexion is a pharmaceutical company conducting clinical trials for a drug it has developed that is being studied for its potential to destroy brain tumors and other cancers.

CTI is a rapidly growing contract research organization that manages clinical trials and does other work to bring new drugs to the market. Its global headquarters is in the RiverCenter II tower on the Covington riverfront, and it employs people in more than 60 countries. It recently announced a $100 million joint venture with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The life sciences sector overall in Northern Kentucky has been growing. Employment in the biomedical field grew 85 percent from 2014 to 2019, according to an analysis released in January by Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.  The prospect for continued growth led Tri-ED to identify life sciences as one of the industry sectors to focus its economic development efforts on. 

READ MORE: Northern Kentucky leads the state in job growth. These industries are why

“Unless you’re in life sciences, you might not appreciate the magnitude of these companies’ work, and the breadth of their reputation,” says Tom West, Covington’s economic development director. “So, when they say this shared lab is the single-biggest missing element that can help Northern Kentucky build on its momentum in life sciences and biotech and help it attract and grow new companies, we all should not only listen, but also take action.”

Covington officials say they've reached out to the 16-member Northern Kentucky legislative caucus to seek the members' support for including the lab funding in the next budget.

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.