05 Dec Searle spirit lives on in Chicago as alumni celebrate at former home
Back on May 12, 2003, I wrote on an article on “The Final Death Knell of Chicago’s G.D. Searle”. At that juncture, the writing was on the walls of the demise of Searle due to the latest Pfizer announcement of closing down the final remaining Searle facilities in Chicago. Since then, the Searle name has virtually disappeared in Chicago.
Fast forward two years to another article I wrote on May 16, 2005, titled “Creating thousands of jobs, Chicago’s biotech space to triple” which chronicled the phoenix-like rising of the former Searle R&D campus in Skokie into the new Illinois Science & Technology Park as part of a transformation process by real estate development company, Forest City Enterprises (NYSE: FCE).
Forest City is rapidly upgrading this 23 acre campus to bring it into the 21st century. It has already torn down and demolished a number of the older non-functional buildings. But it has also retained four critical buildings, some of which will be further upgraded, containing almost 700,000 square feet of immediately available space on the campus:
• the cutting-edge Q building, completed in 2001, which houses 161,000 square feet of “wet labs” for biology, chemistry, toxicology, and genomics laboratory work;
• the state-of-the-art vivarium and toxicology center (J building) consisting of 133,000 square feet;
• the pilot manufacturing center (P building) containing both a GMP pilot solid dosage form manufacturing suite (tablets and capsules) and a GMP injectable manufacturing suite along with clean rooms, formulation labs and nuclear magnetic resonance suites totaling 158,000 square feet; and finally,
• the original Searle building (A building) constructed in 1941 with more than 206,000 square feet dedicated to support services, including computer data centers, a library, a security-protected clinical files data center, and numerous other amenities.
Forest City is in negotiations with a number of potential life science tenants to begin to fill these buildings. At the same time, it is completing its master plan to build another 1.3 million square feet of new buildings on the 23 acres while also creating new landscaped parks on the campus.
When the campus has completed its first phase of development, it will be easily accessible by pedestrians and vehicles from downtown Skokie (via nearby Oakton Street) as well as commuters from downtown Chicago via the new planned Skokie Swift stop to be set up a block away from the campus on Skokie Boulevard and Searle Parkway. The current security fence surrounding the campus from the Searle days will disappear and provide this easy access.
While all this real estate development activity is certainly gratifying for the Chicago life science community, as this kind of biotech village or mall hasn’t really existed before in Chicago as it does in other cities such as Boston, the soul and life of Searle was only, in part, in its buildings and infrastructure.
But the spirit of Searle is still very much alive in the Chicago community even though its former employees are scattered around the area in companies such as Baxter, Takeda, Abbott Labs, TAP Pharmaceuticals, Hospira, Astellas, and American Pharmaceutical Partners.
This spirit was evidenced in the actions of the totally volunteer Searle Alum group, which organized its fourth annual holiday party last week at the former Searle Parkway campus, now the new Illinois Science & Technology Park.
This event has grown year by year; last year’s event, held at Champp’s Sports Bar at Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, a stone’s throw from the former Searle executive offices, drew 250 people. It was obvious after attending last year’s event that a new venue was needed, as there was no room for additional attendees.
The Searle Alum group swung into action, together with the assistance of Forest City Enterprises, to “bring it all back home”, and hosted the 2005 holiday party in the Illinois Science & Technology Park in Q building. This decision, together with the confirmation of attendance of former Searle chairman & CEO Dick DeSchutter and former president & COO Al Heller, drew about 700 former Searle employees back to what was previously known as Searle Parkway last Thursday night.
The event had the look and feel of an extended family reunion! After a “welcome back to your home” introduction by Forest City’s Science & Technology Division president Gayle Farris, DeSchutter and Heller both addressed the extensive gathering of Searle Alum. Both employed the humorous banter that had endeared them to many employees over the years, but even they were clearly amazed and emotionally impacted by the number of people that had come to the event.
A special part of this Searle spirit was evidenced by the participation in the event by two alumni that had commenced working with the company in 1941 and 1951, respectively.
Now if you think this Searle Alum phenomenon is a Chicago-only display of camaraderie, a number of Searle Europe Alum get-together annually in different parts of Europe. This year’s get-together (which I believe was either the third or fourth) took place in September in Madrid, Spain, and I am told the next year’s event is being planned for Oporto, Portugal.
Coincidentally, I had dinner with two additional Searle alum this weekend that had not been able to make it the Thursday event. One, a former president of Searle Japan for over 10 years, who then returned to his native Germany to become president of Searle Germany before retiring, was in town to see former Searle friends; and the second a former president of Searle Eastern Europe who has returned to Chicago after the Pfizer acquisition of Pharmacia. I can tell you that this Searle spirit is very much alive around the world.
In fact, if someone had access to a bankroll of cash to acquire some products, similar to the way Ovation Pharmaceuticals obtained a $150 million credit line from GTC Golder Rauner, and hire back some of the 700 employees that showed up at the Park last Thursday, you could very quickly assemble a new Searle right at the Park. Am I dreaming?
More on biofuels
One of my readers wrote me and pointed out that last week’s article, while capturing a sense of the international issues related to oil consumption and cars and biofuels, missed the boat on probably one of the fastest growth car markets (and hence petroleum use markets): India! According to my reader, India is adding 1 million new cars each year to its automobile infrastructure, a high growth rate that is projected to continue for a number of years.
Furthermore, he points out that the Indian government, realizing what this growth will due to oil importation needs, is already pursuing a biofuels strategy with another local crop, besides corn and soy, called jatropha which apparently has a higher yield than biodiesel. The Indian government is already planting 1 million acres of this crop. The government is also looking at other plants with higher biodiesel yield. Additionally, Indian Railways, the largest rail network in the country and the largest employer in the country (7 million employees) has already started using biodiesel derived from this plant.
Thanks to my readers for your comments and feedback!
See you next week!
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