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Collaborative Culture at Life Sciences Hub Sparks a “Return Home” for Former Hoffmann-La Roche Scientists
NUTLEY, N.J. (Sept. 7, 2023) – The bioscience synergy at Prism Capital Partners’ ON3 is well established, with household-name tenants including Hackensack Meridian Health, Eisai Inc., Quest Diagnostics and other best-in-class firms thriving in a collaborative environment. One of the newest additions – Cepter Biopartners, LLC – furthers the distinctive ecosystem evolving at the former Hoffmann-La Roche campus, which spans the City of Clifton and Township of Nutley.
It also marks a “return home” for the company’s leadership – all of whom are former employees of Hoffmann-La Roche.
Cepter provides services that are essential during the initial phases of drug discovery. The company’s laboratories are located at ON3’s 123 Metro Boulevard – home to the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “A conversation with a long-time colleague, David Perlin, led to our return to this building,” said Alvin Stern, Cepter’s managing partner.
Dr. Perlin serves as professor of Medical Sciences at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, and as chief scientific officer and executive vice president of Hackensack Meridian’s Center for Discovery and Innovation, which is located at ON3’s 111 Ideation Way. “I spoke with David when we were looking for a new location, and we realized there was an opportunity for our firm to support the Center as it expands its focus towards drug discovery,” said Stern. “Having us on campus would make working together easy – we could simply walk across the bridge connecting our buildings to discuss projects.”
Now Cepter is subleasing space from Hackensack Meridian Health at this burgeoning hub of science and learning.
Pioneering Work in Protein Biochemistry
Stern spent over 30 years at Roche, working for the Swiss pharmaceutical company until it closed its U.S. global headquarters in Nutley in 2012. “I did my post-doctoral fellowship in Building 102, which is now 111 Ideation Way,” he recalls. “After three years, following the completion of my Fellowship, I left to start my own academic research laboratory in New York City, but returned to Nutley a year later when Roche was recruiting young scientists to start a biotechnology division.”
As head of the company’s Protein Biochemistry group, Stern developed unique approaches to purify difficult proteins and was recognized for his pioneering work on the purification of the oncology drug, Interleukin-2 (IL-2). “Our department focused on the initial stages of a drug development program,” he said. “In Nutley, the emphasis was on oncology, autoimmune illnesses, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Those departments would identify a unique target, and we were responsible to develop a strategy for initiating the project.”
Although Roche relocated Stern’s group several times to different buildings on the Nutley campus, he finally landed at what is now 123 Metro Boulevard. When the company shut down operations at the site, Stern decided to start his own company. “I wasn’t ready to retire and was working with a great group of people, so I had the idea that we could do this work for any group that was willing to contract us.”
A Focus on On-Shore Contract Research
Stern and the five initial colleagues who joined him were fortunate to gain the support of the leadership at Roche. “We needed specialized equipment to initiate our venture, and Roche was willing to contribute equipment once we presented a viable business plan.”
A connection provided by a Roche attorney allowed the team to secure lab space at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and they landed their first contract when Roche’s research group in Switzerland agreed to funnel some projects their way. “The management team and scientists at Roche were terrific,” said Stern. “I don’t know of another pharma company that would have been so accommodating to a spin-out company after a site closure.”
Since its launch in October of 2013, Cepter (an acronym for cloning, expression and purification of proteins) has become a well-established company for U.S.-based on-shore contract research. “We work with most of the big pharma companies, biotech companies, as well as virtual biotechs with no wet labs,” Stern said. “We also partner with venture capital folks and non-profits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where the focus is on discovering cures for Third World diseases.”
A Chance to Go Back “Home”
After eight years in Hoboken, the need for bigger and better space led the Cepter team back to Nutley. “We looked at several sites, but all of us wanted to go back ‘home’,” said Stern. “It’s incredible that we’re in the same building, with even the same view out the window as when I left Roche 10 years ago.” He noted that opportunities to collaborate with organizations like Hackensack Meridian Health are one of the distinct advantages of being on the ON3 campus. “This partnership exemplifies the collaborative culture that this site is known for – although now it is the result of the interaction this campus fosters between organizations, rather than within a single entity.”
When Prism Capital Partners acquired the ON3 campus in 2016, the firm had a very specific vision: to transform the 116-acre, single-user complex into a world-class, multi-tenant lifestyle hub to meet the changing demands of New Jersey communities, residents and businesses. “In today’s market, life science companies want facilities with strong synergies in an environment that spans the full clinical solutions lifecycle,” noted Prism’s Eugene Diaz, principal partner. “ON3’s success in drawing companies like Cepter – those that understand the value of the ecosystem we are creating – is incredibly gratifying.”
Today, the award-winning ON3 – New Jersey’s largest contemplated redevelopment – is delivering on its promise of integrating office and R&D, educational, recreational, retail, hospitality and wellness facilities. With more than 2 million square feet of additional, new space planned for the property, Diaz says his team continues to make decisions aimed at bringing together a variety of users and establishing a dynamic, lifestyle-focused campus to serve tenants and the larger community.
PHOTO CAPTION: Cepter Biopartners’ Alvin Stern (center), managing partner, with Prism Capital Partners’ Eugene Diaz (left) and Edwin Cohen, principal partners
About Prism Capital Partners
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