Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fast-growing firm expands at biotech park

The fastest-growing company in the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park opened an expanded office and laboratory space Wednesday.

Since it was founded in 2009, Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. has grown from a staff of 11 people to about 180 employees. Its revenue reached about $70 million in 2010, said Tonya Mallory, the company's co-founder and chief executive officer.

The company still is hiring and expects to reach a total employment of about 210 this year.

"We're adding about a half a body a day," Mallory joked at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday for the company's expanded 42,000-square-foot office and lab space in the park's Biotech Eight building, which was shell space before HDL Inc.'s $4.2 million expansion.

"It's quite amazing what we have been able to accomplish," Mallory said. "We're glad to be in the city." She said all but a few of the people the company has hired are from Virginia.

The company's rapid growth is unusual for biotechnology, where firms often take years to develop products and grow beyond a handful of employees, or reach profitability.

HDL has tapped into growing demand in the health-care market, providing diagnostic services for physicians to help them with early detection of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

The company's growth is a milestone in the park's 16-year history, said Robert T. Skunda, the park's chief executive officer.

The 34-acre park in downtown Richmond is home to 66 private sector firms, nonprofits, research institutes and government laboratories.

Biotechnology advocates hope that the General Assembly will pass legislation during the current session to spur more investment in biotechnology firms.

The Virginia Biotechnology Association backs legislation that would provide a refundable research and development tax credit for companies.

Two bills have been introduced that would provide a tax credit to Virginia companies amounting to 15 percent of the cost of qualified research and development expenses. As an added incentive to invest, the credit would increase to 20 percent if the research is conducted in partnership with a public college or university in Virginia.

"Certainly, I think it would be a help to many early-stage companies that we see here at the research park," Skunda said.

Companies would be able to apply for a refundable credit even if they are not profitable, said Mark Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association.

Herzog said the credit would help companies obtain capital to reinvest in their businesses.

"In this economic environment, it is incredibly hard for many life sciences companies to obtain the capital they need to continue to make investments in equipment, clinical trials and people," Herzog said. He said 38 other states have a similar tax credit for research and development.

Mallory, the HDL chief executive, said a tax credit would help the firm expand its 10-person research and development staff.

By John Reid Blackwell
Richmond Times-Dispatch

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