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Cell maker ABS plans large expansion in New Castle

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Analytical Biological Services, a manufacturer of cell cultures and tissues for biopharma research, is expanding its presence through a new headquarters in New Castle. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DREW HAYS/UNSPLASH

NEW CASTLE – Analytical Biological Services (ABS), a manufacturer of cells and biological material used in biopharmaceutical research, is planning a more than $9 million investment in a new Delaware headquarters facility while doubling its workforce.

Currently located in the Cornell Business Park in Minquadale, the bioscience firm has acquired the former Discover Bank offices at 2 Read’s Way in New Castle for $4.9 million as its future headquarter offices and labs, said Charlie Saller, company founder, president and CEO.

On Monday morning, the 21-year-old firm was unanimously approved for $1.2 million in taxpayer-backed grants by the state’s investment board, the Council on Development Finance, to convert the longtime office building into a biotech lab and support hiring 36 new employees.

Saller founded ABS in 1990 after a career as a researcher working for the National Institutes of Health and AstraZeneca’s predecessor ICI; he worked on the blockbuster antipsychotic medication Seroquel. Recognizing an opportunity to help save major companies time in growing cells needed to test the efficacy of their drugs, Saller poured his life’s savings into starting ABS.

“Scientists spent a lot of time preparing cells, growing them week after week, and a lot of time trying to acquire tissues, process them and analyze them. I was frustrated by that as a scientist and so were many others, and it was a real innovation to outsource that kind of production,” he explained to the CDF.

The company was quickly hired by major corporate clients, but its growth accelerated after 2012 when it ceased other side ambitions and focused on its core product business, Saller said. It grew again in 2016 when it added a business development and sales team.

“We’ve doubled both the number of personnel and revenue in the last five years,” he said, estimating that they’ll see revenues continue to grow by about 20% annually in the near term, following the recent trend line.

ABS provides products to 19 of the Top 20 biopharmaceutical companies, Saller estimated, as well as emerging biotech companies. It actually has a few scientists who work out of labs on Incyte’s campus to support that Delaware company’s efforts.

All of that sales growth has led to an inflection point though.

“Right now, we just can’t fit where we are, we’re too big and it’s constraining our operations. Sales are moving ahead, and our production has been constrained,” Saller said.

Former Discover Bank offices at 2 Read’s Way will be converted into ABS’ new headquarters next year. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NAI EMORY HILL/COSTAR GROUP

For more than two years, ABS explored possibilities for new space, looking in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland, but didn’t find the right fit. After the Carney administration backed the creation of the Graduated Lab Space renovation grants, however, it became more feasible to retrofit existing space like the Corporate Commons space at Reads Way into laboratories.

“Our desire was to stay in Delaware – our roots are here, and our organization is in Delaware – but it was difficult to find anything. This grant will allow us to renovate space and move forward in a big way in Delaware and keep our growth going,” Saller said.

ABS plans to invest $4.2 million to renovate about 20,000 square feet of labs and 10,000 square feet of offices immediately in the 48,000-square-foot building, aiming to occupy the space by the fourth quarter of 2022, if not sooner, Saller said. The remaining 18,000 square feet could be occupied by ABS later or leased to another bioscience firm, officials said.

Supporting those renovations is a $1 million lab space grant, which requires ABS to remain in Delaware for at least five years after receipt. The company will also receive up to $262,260 in a job performance grant to create 36 positions over the next three years.

Saller said those positions would primarily be highly technical and science-based to support the core production, though some professional and marketing positions would also likely be created. The salaries for the jobs would range between $55,000 up to $140,000 annually.

“We are proud to have a number of startup science and tech companies here in Delaware,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement announcing the project. “When we realized we had a shortage of lab space for them to use as they grow their business, we made sure there was funding available for what we call Lab Space Grants. The life science industry is essential to both public health and Delaware’s economic future. We are pleased that Lab Space Grants are making a difference for companies like ABS, because we want companies that start here to stay and grow here.”

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