New HudsonAlpha Building is 'Next Step' for Alabama Biotech Industry

More sweeping views across a high, open lobby. More glass and natural light. More tall columns of Alabama pine. More of everything that helped make Huntsville’s first HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology building a magnet for national biotech talent and virtual tourist attraction.

It’s all here again in a new 100,000-square-foot building opening on the HudsonAlpha campus in Cummings Research Park. Located behind the Jackson Center meeting facility an easy walk from the original building, the new Paul Propst Center will house the institute’s growing education and research programs and its growing biotech companies.

“The design feature of funneling people into encounter spaces is being carried over into this building,” HudsonAlpha Director of Operations Gregg Tyree said on a recent tour. “There’s not a dozen places to get in this building. You’re going to come in those front doors, and it’s going to force opportunity for encounter.”

Glass-walled offices that allow tenants to see who’s available across the atrium for a quick chat are among the intentional features to foster collaboration and inspiration. Limited access points and common sidewalks are another way to stimulate walking and talking together.

The huge building also features “clean rooms” for handling biological samples, private rooms for counseling patients from the center’s genomic medicine clinic, and classrooms and labs for the students and teachers who come each year from across north Alabama.

Since its opening, HudsonAlpha has reached about 4 million people with its education programs headed by Dr. Neil Lamb. That includes students, educators, clinical professionals, patients and members of the public who participated in internships, teacher training workshops, public seminars and clinical training. It also includes digital downloads of the institute’s educational games like iCell and Touching Triton.

The institute is designed to grow small biotech companies into larger companies. “What is the two-person startup moving from a university’s lab or their garage going to need?” explained Carter Wells, vice president of economic development. “We’ve got a number of 240-square-foot lab spaces. It’s a good size for a smaller company. Or as that company grows, we’ve got seven of them next to each other, so you can just expand as needed.”

“Incremental growth has always been the challenge for us,” Tyree said. “How do we accommodate the incremental growth? You know, ‘I need another lab, I need another office.’ We don’t want to lose them once they start growing. We want to keep them here…. We’re not your garden variety real estate company. We have companies we’ve done 14 or 15 leases with.”

The new building was funded by a $20 million state grant, center funds and a donation by Huntsville businessman and philanthropist William “Bill” Propst Jr. The building is named for his father, a North Alabama minister.

Institute President Dr. Rick Myers told a groundbreaking crowd in December that the institute has grown in eight years from five biotech companies to 35 and from 10 researchers to 16.

“This is the logical next step for the growth of not only HudsonAlpha but for the life sciences and biotech industry in North Alabama and in the Southeast,” Wells said this week.

Propst had a simple answer when asked why he made a key donation to get the building started.

“The work they’re doing out there, hopefully, and I think it will, produce some truly favorable results for cancer and maybe diabetes,” Propst said. “Anything they start to work on, if they’re successful, will not only help the city and the state, but the U.S. and even the world. So, I thought it was a worthwhile thing to do.”