Thursday, May 23, 2024

An image from the website of the Network Drive at Northwest Park campus in Burlington suggests a sense of connection with Cambridge.

It’s no secret that Kendall Square is packed so tight with life sciences that firms are getting squeezed out and landing in Alewife, Somerville and Boston’s Seaport. Now a second mainstay of Cambridge biotech in a week has revealed it has its eye on Burlington, a town of some 26,377 people about 15 miles to the northwest.

Vericel, which specializes in sports medicine and burn treatments, plans a 125,000-square-foot headquarters there for 2024, leaving behind its Sidney Street offices, The Boston Globe reported Feb. 3.

Though The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard is exploring being neighbor to Vericel in a 158-acre Northwest Park complex in Burlington, its plans are “quite different,” said Lee McGuire, chief communications officer at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

“Broad Institute is staying in Kendall Square. In fact, we are exploring options to potentially expand our scientific footprint in Kendall over the next several years in alignment with a longer-term scientific strategy that is still in development,” McGuire said Thursday.

The institute, founded in 2004, works to determine genetic links to disease, prevent illnesses and invent medicines.

What the Broad is “exploring an option in Burlington to develop [is] a new, smaller site to support some additional operations that may not require proximity to our Kendall Square headquarters,” McGuire said by email. “We are firmly committed to Kendall Square and Cambridge for the long term. This is the very best community in the world for science and scientists seeking to positively impact human health, and we are proud to remain a part of it.”

No decisions have been made, but a Burlington site might come online in 2024, McGuire said.

Becoming a life-sciences center

Melisa Tintocalis, director of Burlington’s Economic Development Office, confirmed that Broad was not yet a tenant of the town or Northwest Park, which is being built by Nordblom as a mixed-use campus. The Globe said the campus is to include more than 1 million square feet of commercial space as well as housing and retail – at half the rents charged around Kendall Square “There’s a few things that still need to fall in place,” she said of the Broad’s potential use of another 125,000 square feet near Vericel.

“We are super excited,” Tintocalis said. “The human impact they have on people is just amazing, and to facilitate the Broad Institute having the opportunity to expand nearby its headquarters in Cambridge … we’re excited.”

“Broad is really kind of a gem for the life-science community in terms of cachet and prestige it brings to any area,” Tintocalis said.

Burlington set out to become a life-science center just a handful of years ago, with a 2018 statement of purpose leading to a series of groundwork zoning amendments in January 2019. Even Tintocalis’ department was founded in just 2019, and the time since has been spent ensuring that firms such as Vericel and organizations such as the Broad would be able to consider Burlington as a base: getting biosafety regulations in place, hiring a team of people who can review the technical aspects of projects as they come in and building infrastructure under state guidance to ensure water and utilities, including connecting with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

“It can be attractive from a monetary perspective. But what we like to think about in Burlington is not just labs for labs’ sake,” Tintocalis said. Not only is it a hands-on field that benefits the surrounding economy, but serves a greater good: “Improving human lives is what we were thinking about at the top levels here.”