Covance, the international drug-development services company, officially opened its $175 million drug testing lab in Chandler Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and effusive welcomes from state and city officials.
The 288,000-square-foot research center will provide pre-clinical safety testing of new medicines before they are tested in humans. The tests are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of the process of developing new drugs.
Covance will conduct the tests for major pharmaceutical companies that are developing new drug treatments for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Chief Executive Joseph Herring said the center is the largest single investment ever made by the Covance, adding that “we are betting the company on the success of this facility.”
He said $75 billion was spent last year on development of new medicines worldwide, and outsourcing work to companies like Covance accounted for about 25 percent of that total. Outsourcing is expected to increase to 50 percent of the total, giving the company prime opportunities to grow in the future, he said.
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn called Thursday’s official opening “an important moment for Chandler” because Covance could provide an anchor that will attract more bioscience companies to the city.
“The life sciences industry is critical to Chandler’s future,” he said, adding that work performed by Covance “has the potential of saving million of lives . . . across the world.”
Because the Princeton, N.J.-based company uses animals as part of its testing, the facility has drawn fire from animal-rights activists.
Chief Operating Officer Wendel Barr said the Chandler complex will provide improved facilities for research animals such as group housing for primates instead of individual cages to improve their socialization and dog runs for improved exercise.
The animal facilities exceed FDA requirements and are in line with research standards in Europe, he said.
The complex also includes water- and energy-saving features and a learning center for employee training and meetings with clients, he said.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett welcomed the company to Arizona, saying the lab, which will employ several hundred scientists and technicians within a year, gives the state’s economy a much-needed boost. “We need 50 or 100 facilities like this,” he said.
Bennett also presented the company with a certificate of congratulations from Gov. Jan Brewer.
Covance began moving instruments into the lab in January and started validating the equipment in mid-February, said company spokeswoman Camilla Strongin. The first studies for drug-company clients are expected to begin in April or May, she said.
Covance has about 50 acres available for future expansion. Herring said the company plans two additional phases, which could more than double the size of the complex and increase employment to 2,000.
He said the second phase could be under construction in two years.