June 21, 2012

PROTECS biolab building firm opens in Newark

It’s one thing to be intrigued with science as it evolves inside a sterile lab where floor-to-ceiling shelves of clear, glass beakers bear mysterious markings, some straight off the periodic table of elements.

But one could argue something almost as interesting is behind the walls.

Designing and constructing a pharmaceutical or any biotechnical lab for that matter is seemingly overlooked, particularly once an operation is up and running.

From highly specialized electrical wiring to regulated ventilation and plumbing systems, outfitting a space to foster innovation presents an intricate, arduous and expensive undertaking.

At Adesis, a company based near New Castle that creates compounds for pharmaceutical companies to make medicines, the electric bill is $40,000 per month, said Andrew Cottone, a co-owner and vice president of chemistry.

In 2009 when Adesis built an additional 650-square-foot lab, it cost $92,700 in electrical wiring and $315,000 in ventilation, totaling $407,700 – or 49 percent of the nine-month project contract.

Like Adesis, startups in the First State abound. For Christopher R. DiPaolo, president of PROTECS design and construction management firm, that means opportunity.

“We can see the tremendous growth of the high-tech market and biotechnology arena for sure,” said DiPaolo, who opened an office in Newark this month. “The growth really spurred us to say we need to be in Delaware and create a presence.”

PROTECS opened in 2005 with offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The firm takes the lead on projects serving the pharmaceutical, semi-conductor and biotechnology industries.

It also has academic and government contracts. With offices in Newark, PROTECS can better serve its Delaware and Maryland clients, DiPaolo said.

Over the past year, the firm worked for both Newark-based Fraunhofer USA, a molecular-based biotech, and SDIX, which creates antibodies for the pharma and food industries.

PROTECS is presently working with the Ashland Inc. chemical company in Wilmington – formerly Hercules – on the potential construction of a new facility.

The type of construction that PROTECS manages is much-needed in Delaware, according to people familiar with the needs of young biotech start-ups.

Company officials said late last year that a shortage of high-quality lab space was becoming a hindrance to growth for smaller firms — and making other state locations attractive as an alternative. State economic development officials said then it was an issue they were aware of and trying to address.

Cori Anne Natoli at 324-2855 or