Life science companies are finding a home in The Woodlands, with more than 86 acres slated for additional research or manufacturing space.

The Woodlands Innovation District, a collaboration between developers Howard Hughes and Vitrian, could bring new, health-focused biotech jobs to five locations around Research Forest Drive. Meanwhile, Bionova Scientific—based in California—announced its plans to move to the area.

Amid this growth, local higher education facilities, such as Lone Star College System, are investing in biotech programs.

“If you have a loved one that gets cancer ... this is something that can help them in the future,” said Dr. Mischelle Hopper, dean of Natural Sciences and Health at LSC-Montgomery.

The big picture

The Woodlands Innovation District was announced in early 2023 on the heels of two life sciences companies—Cellipont Bioservices and Nurix Therapeutics—beginning work on campuses in The Woodlands near existing companies such as KBI Biopharma and VGXI.

Cellipont held a grand opening for its new headquarters in March, where it will develop and manufacture cell therapies for clients, which use a patient’s cells to develop individualized treatments. Oncology is one of the areas most in demand among clients, said Annie Perinelli, director of talent acquisition and business development operations for Cellipont.

“We will work with anything from diabetes to any kind of dermatology, hair, anything cell therapy related we can do [as well as] oncology,” she said.

The Alexandria Center for Advanced Technologies at The Woodlands also has several future phases of development planned over three buildings—the first of which is occupied by Nurix Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company. In addition to working on cancer treatments, the new location will focus on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, Alexandria officials have said.

“We are actively recruiting tenants to move to The Woodlands,” Joel Marcus, executive director and founder of Alexandria, said in an email.

The innovation district aims to fill out 86.3 acres of land on five sites around Research Forest Drive with additional facilities and hundreds of new jobs, said Patrick Stites, vice president of strategic investments for Howard Hughes in the Houston region.

“We absolutely think this brings prosperity to The Woodlands region beyond the workforce, playing a pivotal role in health care across all sectors,” Stites said.

The conditions

Gil Staley, president and CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Partnership, said he has seen the science technology industry grow in The Woodlands over the years.

Since the 1980s, The Woodlands Development Company focused on research and development facilities in the Research Forest area, he said. Identical buildings known as venture tech buildings were spread throughout the area, Staley said.

Daniel Monticello, who founded a biotech company in The Woodlands in the early 1990s, said the next decade saw many of those companies fold, including his own. However, he said the current emphasis on production and manufacturing means companies can thrive away from the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

As of 2024, there are over 40,000 jobs in The Woodlands area among companies with more than 100 employees, but only 0.4% of those are among life sciences, according to the EDP. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, job growth is projected nationally in biotech fields.
Other projects

The newest development slated to join the science and tech corridor of The Woodlands is Bionova Scientific with a new $56.1 million facility. According to its website, Bionova is a California-based company focused on creating “recombinant protein products.” Recombinant proteins are used in a number of treatments, including:
  • COVID-19 antigen development
  • Cancer treatment therapies
  • Enzyme development for treating chronic diseases
Bionova is seeking a tax abatement agreement with the township after being granted an abatement by Montgomery County on May 7. The agreement outlines a seven-year plan for reduced property tax payment in exchange for a minimum of 10 locally hired full-time employees.

Bionova Scientific is set to have a similar tax abatement agreement with the township approved on June 26 as of press time.

What they're saying

“[The Woodlands Innovation District] brings prosperity to The Woodlands [and] the region, beyond the workforce, playing a pivotal role in health care," said Patrick Stites, vice president of strategic investments, Howard Hughes Houston region

“When children get out of high school here, there are jobs in these industries; they’re generating real careers as technical support people," said Daniel Monticello, chief scientific officer, Houston biotech company GlycosBio Inc.

“Biopharmaceutical manufacturing is experiencing tremendous growth in recent years because of the advances in gene and cellular therapies," said Daniel Kainer, director, LSC Bioechnology Institute.

“We can treat diseases like cancer but also autoimmune, neurological [disorders], things that have been really difficult to handle in the past," said Dr. Mischelle Hopper, dean of Natural Sciences and Health, LSC-Montgomery.

What else?

Higher education programs are also growing in response to employment demand.

LSC invested $500,000 to buy new equipment for its Associate of Applied Science degree program, according to a May 21 news release.

Mischelle Hopper, dean of Natural Sciences and Health, said while the current biotech programs are small, graduating up to 50 students a year, this will allow the college to expand as it introduces a new degree plan in the fall.

New LSC biotech equipment includes:
  • Flow cytometer: Analyzes properties of cells
  • Cleanroom: A controlled, sterile environment
  • Bioprinter: Prints biological materials including cells
  • Wave bioreactor: Grows cells in suspension
Next steps

Stites said Howard Hughes and Vitrian will collaborate to attract additional life sciences companies to The Woodlands with the potential for move-in dates as soon as 2025.

The concepts for the five sites in The Woodlands Innovation District include single buildings up to 160,000 square feet in size with 200-250 parking spaces or more than 500 parking spaces for the largest site available. The spaces will be build-to-suit facilities, he said.

Life science development
  • March 2023: Howard Hughes and Vitrian announce The Woodlands Innovation District
  • Fall 2024: Innovation district to offer build-to-suit shell spaces
  • Spring 2025: Earliest potential move-in for new companies