Almost a year after the University purchased the property, the research space at the new North Campus Research Complex no longer exists unoccupied.
BoroPharm —a chemical manufacturing company founded by two Michigan State University faculty members— is the first entity to occupy laboratory space in the 174-acre, 28-building former Pfizer complex, as well as its first commercial tenant.
Founded in 2005 by Rob Maleczka and Mitch Smith, BoroPharm develops and manufactures chemical intermediates — specifically boron-based compounds — for the pharmaceutical, agro-tech and fine chemical industries. The intermediates are more efficient and environmentally friendly than other similar products.
Todd Zahn, president and CEO of BoroPharm, said there are a number of practical applications for the compounds his company creates.
“(The compounds) are used in a variety of different applications,” Zahn said. “All the way down from pharmaceuticals through to organic lighting, electronics and things like that.”
The company first moved into its 4,300-square-foot, free-standing building on the NCRC campus last March and will be fully operational in the space in a matter of weeks, Zahn said.
The building was deliberately built away from the rest of the structures at the NCRC because its laboratories handle high-pressure chemistry reactions that have the potential to explode, NCRC Executive Director David Canter said during a media tour of the complex last week.
Joan Keiser, the outgoing interim NCRC executive director, said BoroPharm contacted the University about renting the lab space even before it had bought the NCRC from Pfizer. Once the University owned the property, it determined that it had no need for the specialized laboratories and decided to rent out the space to BoroPharm.
“BoroPharm contacted the University of Michigan very early on because these types of facilities are not usual and BoroPharm was aware that it was here (because) the chemical industry (as a whole) is aware that we have a facility like this,” Keiser said. “They contacted the University early to ask, ‘Was there space? Was there space?’ They were very persistent. I give them great credit for that.”
The exceptional facilities were not the only reason BoroPharm decided to move to Ann Arbor. The resources available to it because of its relationship with the University were also strong motivators for BoroPharm to make the move, Zahn said.
“We were really interested in both the facilities and the access to the talent that is at the University in terms of faculty collaborations and training students and bringing out new commercial opportunities where students can enhance their learning experience and educational experience at the University,” Zahn said.
University President Mary Sue Coleman, in an interview last week, said BoroPharm would be a boon to the University. Coleman added that BoroPharm’s presence at the University would provide unique educational opportunities to students.
“We have a robust opportunity here not only to have a partnership with technologies that are coming out of the University, but that we could attract companies that are small, that are growing, that make sense from a research perspective,” Coleman said. “There would be a good interaction, a good possibility for internships for students.”
Coleman added that the company’s profitability was another reason the University was attracted to BoroPharm.
“The reason we like (BoroPharm) as our initial tenant is because they actually sell product,” Coleman said with a chuckle. “They’re making a profit right now. A lot of these start-up companies go a long time before making a product that can be sold.”
Officials from both the University and BoroPharm emphasized how the business relationship was an example of the success of the University Research Corridor — a research partnership between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
Zahn said the transition between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan has been “awesome.”
“We still utilize Michigan State space and resources,” he said. “Our relationship is still very strong there. We still have many collaborations going on. We’ve had a very good experience, similarly, like we did at Michigan State. We’ve had an excellent experience with the University of Michigan administrators and faculty.”