Sean McFaul – Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Since its founding in 1989 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Vertex Pharmaceuticals has fought serious diseases by understanding their underlying causes and going all-in to discover and develop medicines that address them.
As senior director of real estate, Sean McFaul ensures Vertex has the workplaces necessary to research and develop therapies—and to attract researchers.
Speaking with Blueprint in April, McFaul says Vertex was celebrating the dedication of the Jeffrey Leiden Center for Cell and Genetic Therapies, a 268,000-square-foot research and development center in Boston’s Marine Industrial Park. Completed in just two years, the Leiden Center was fast-tracked to support research, discovery and innovations in cell and genetic therapies.
“Vertex finds itself at an inflection point in investigating multiple disease and multiple different treatment modalities,” he says. “The approach within real estate aligns with our R&D approach—we have to be innovative and agile and always remember our core values.”
Helping more people
Vertex is headquartered in Boston. Along with its international headquarters in London, the company also has R&D sites and commercial offices in North America, Europe, Australia and Latin America.
Vertex’s cell and gene therapies are used against cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disorder affecting more than 83,000 people in the North America, Europe and Australia. At the Leiden Center, named for former CEO and current Executive Chairman, Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the company is expanding to target other diseases, too.
Contributing to those efforts, in 2019, Vertex completed a pair of large acquisitions, adding Semma Therapeutics to help pursue cell therapies to potentially cure type 1 diabetes; and Exonics Therapeutics to enhance its gene editing capabilities through a gene editing platform used to treat muscle diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
And McFaul says the company isn’t done expanding.
At the Leiden Center ribbon cutting in May, the company announced it’s building a 344,000-square-foot cell and genetic therapies research and manufacturing facility in Boston’s Seaport District. It’s expected to be completed in 2025 and will make Vertex the largest biotech company in Boston in terms of square footage, McFaul says.
High-tech with amenities
Vertex has a 15-year lease with Related Beal for the Leiden Center, with the cost offset by tenant improvement allowances for the work done to build labs and supporting infrastructure. Any savings are important, McFaul says, because Vertex can invest them in R&D.
Creating the space required specialized design and construction work to accommodate taller floor-to-ceiling-heights needed for the mechanical and plumbing infrastructure. Accommodations were also made for air handling systems for labs, backup power needed to keep cells alive in case of emergencies, and ultra-pure water for use in cell therapy research and manufacturing.
While these facilities are power-intensive by nature, McFaul says the Leiden Center was built with sustainability in mind. Green initiatives include LED lighting, clean rooms that are cooled with water, heat pumps, and high efficiency and water sensitive fixtures. Water is recycled from lab operations, and there’s a new solar array on an adjacent property will supply up to 15 percent of the electricity demand.
The company expects the facility will meet the U.S. Green Business Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification for interior design and construction. Vertex’s Boston headquarters are certified Gold and its San Diego R&D facility is certified LEED Platinum.
Build it and they will come
McFaul says the best suited locations are harder to find because they need to be in areas with well-developed life sciences and medical environments. Boston, San Diego and Oxford, England, are good examples, and Vertex already has offices and labs in those cities.
“Ecosystems are there to foster innovation, as well as personal and professional growth,” McFaul says. “Our real estate plays an important part in recruiting, attracting and supporting talent.”
For instance, at the Leiden Center, employees have access to an open-air courtyard with a fire pit, a roof deck, a gym and a cafeteria. The environment allows plenty of sunlight and good airflow, and the site is convenient to public transit, as well as Vertex’s global headquarters.
For this and other developments, the real estate process must begin years in advance of when the space is required. That’s because of the long lead times associated with design, construction, permitting and setting up operations at a biotech site, McFaul says.
When the company wanted to expand in the Boston area, McFaul began evaluating potential opportunities in collaboration with Vertex’s finance, HR, accounting and R&D teams. He also worked with brokers from CBRE and attorneys from the firm of Bowditch & Dewey.
Risk and reward
Born and raised in New York’s Finger Lakes Region, McFaul earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and business from the State University of New York in Geneseo in 1999. Before joining Vertex, he was a risk manager for Clean Harbors Environmental Services, guiding the risk management and commercial insurance operations for the hazardous waste environment services company.
In January 2009, he became associate director of risk management for the biotech company Genzyme. McFaul joined Vertex in October 2011, as its director of insurance. He became involved in real estate in 2016 when the company hired a new vice president of operations. McFaul used the opportunity to shift from risk management and insurance to real estate.
He was named to his present role in November 2016 and says his experience in risk management and insurance transferred well in managing real estate.
“The people who work at Vertex are incredibly passionate about what they do,” McFaul says. “We are all here for the same mission: to help transform the lives of people with serious diseases. Our workplaces create the environments for Vertex employees to do their best work to support this mission.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2022 Edition here.
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