Astellas Pharma research lab in Santa Monica

Astellas Pharma research lab in Santa Monica Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Belldegrun’s earlier work with Agensys gave him his start in the private sector with “a gene discovery company that has been involved in the genomics and the bioinformatics of cancer,” Belldegrun recalled during an interview last month. “And based on our discoveries, we have developed a series of human monoclonal antibodies that became the foundation of testing these antibodies in patients with cancer.”

Roy Doumani, who has a background in international banking and was one of the original backers of Agensys and Kite Pharma, predicted another biotech company would buy the lab. He said that Kite Pharma was interested in possibly acquiring the Stewart Street site.

The Leed Silver lab facility, sheathed in blue-green glass with a rotating sculpture exhibit linked to Bergamot Station, contains 72,000 square feet of R&D space, and 46,000 square feet of manufacturing floor.

“Hopefully, their loss is our gain,” said Doumani, executive director of the Business of Science Center at UCLA. “I think Santa Monica is going to be a growth hub for biotech. It’s got a long way to go. That building is ideal.”

A representative from what is now dubbed Kite, a Gilead Company, could not be immediately reached for comment.

“The property is one of a kind in Santa Monica,” said Andrew Riley, first vice president for CBRE, of Beverly Hills, a life sciences real estate specialist for Kite Pharma and biotech start-ups out of UCLA, in an email. “There is nothing else like it and it is best suited for a biotechnology company.

“It would be great for the City of Santa Monica and the LA life sciences community if another biotech company took over the space after Agensys.”  

Astellas, meanwhile, is already wrapping up operations here.

“The wind-down activities began on July 26 and will be completed in the first quarter of calendar year 2018,” said Stefanie Prodouz, a spokeswoman for the Illinois-based Astellas Pharma US Inc., an affiliate of the Japanese firm of the same name, in an email. “There are approximately 220 employees at Agensys.

“We will be retaining no employees past February 2018 unless they apply for and receive a position in other parts of the company,” she added. “Certain employees essential to the wind-down process will be retained through first quarter 2018. Lastly, the facilities will also wind down. The equipment will transfer as needed or be sold, and all sites will go on the market.”

The shutdown of Astellas and potential for a new tenant at its lab come as the Los Angeles market shows growth as an employment center in life sciences (see related story, page 3).

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