An Emerging Hub: How Biotech Spread to Allston


{shortcode-dd08abb0bb2b02bf4881baaa9fb305566107f8d4}wo years ago, Incendia Therapeutics, a biotechnology company specializing in cancer-related research, moved into Allston in a building along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Incendia, along with nearly a dozen other biotech companies, have moved into the neighborhood over the last decade. But for Incendia, things haven’t worked out.

“We’re leaving, because we’re not happy,” Incendia CEO Wenyde Robbins said. The company signed a lease in East Cambridge, hoping to get closer to the heart of Boston’s life science sector and access a higher quality space.

Octagon Therapeutics, who moved to Allston in 2017, had a similar experience. “It did feel like we were, at that time, on an island,” Octagon CEO Isaac Stoner said. The company ultimately moved to Kendall Square.


Along with major issues with their physical space, Robbins said the neighborhood itself had proved a “challenge” for her company.

“You need a critical mass of companies, support services, and access to public transit,” she said. For Allston, Robbins said, “it’s not there yet.”

But Allston is getting closer. Despite the growing pains Incendia and Octagon have faced, the neighborhood is now booming with construction. Allston is on track to see millions of square feet of housing, labs, office, and retail space added, on top of street redesigns and new public transit over the next 10 years.

In a process that began in part with land sales to Harvard two decades ago, Allston is now being transformed by large regional forces. Private capital flows, the expansionary hopes of Harvard’s leadership, a need for room to grow by the local biotech industry, and the state and city’s desire to revitalize the neighborhood have all converged in Allston, bringing billions of public and private dollars.

An area which has long been known as a hub for college students, immigrant families, and mixed industrial uses is now emerging as a new hub for one of Boston’s most lucrative industries: biotech.

The Crimson spoke with developers, biotech CEOs, city officials, real estate experts, and Harvard leadership to understand how biotech has spread into Allston. The story shows how a coalition of interests are working to develop a neighborhood favorably situated for them near Harvard and Kendall Square, and crucially, with a wealth of open, developable land.

‘The Center of The Universe’

Much of the change in Allston begins with Boston’s place as the biotechnology capital of the world. The greater Boston area is home to close to one thousand biotech companies. While Boston has long been a center of the life sciences, it has largely expanded thanks to huge government investments during the last 20 years.

Biotechnology first received significant government funding in 2008 when former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78 signed legislation investing $1 billion into expanding the industry. In 2018, under the leadership of Charlie D. Baker ’79, the state authorized an additional $623 million in funding over five years.

In February, Governor Maura T. Healey ’92 continued the trend with her “Mass Leads Act,” proposing another $1 billion investment during the next decade.

Alongside government investments, venture capital began to invest heavily in companies based in and around Boston during the last decade. In 2023, companies headquartered in Massachusetts received 32 percent of all venture investments nationwide in the life sciences industry.


Across the river in Cambridge, Kendall Square “does feel like the center of the universe” for life science and biotech, Stoner said.

Prior to the influx of biotech companies in Kendall Square, the area was largely vacant. The district saw a great influx of research and development in 1977 after the city of Cambridge passed a policy allowing DNA experimentation.

Cambridge Assistant City Manager Iram Farooq said in an interview that several vacant buildings left over from the industrial era along with the “relatively inexpensive space available in these older industrial buildings” were “very conducive to research.”

As Kendall Square attracted more and more researchers with its empty buildings and the newly passed legislation on DNA experimentation, it became a cluster. The high concentration of hospitals, private companies, and universities like MIT and Harvard in a small area became a business advantage for the biotech industry.

Growing Outward

But the enormous draw of Kendall Square brought more demand to locate there than it could accommodate, even after significant new construction. Kendall has nearly reached saturation, according to Young Park, the president of Berkeley Investments, as demand for lab space in the 2010s pushed rents “through the roof.”

Biotech companies eager to base in Boston were forced to search on a larger radius.

At the same time, low federal interest rates pushed big investors to look for high-risk, high-reward companies in search of better returns, according to Adam M. Koppel ’91, the managing director of the Bain Capital Life Science Fund. For many, that meant investing in biotech.

Several forces combined to create a bonanza of growth in the industry. Huge investments from venture capitalists and Beacon Hill gave biotech companies significant funding to work with, while lab developers saw an alluring opportunity in Boston’s limited available lab space.

“They chased it, because they thought they could get $120 per square foot, versus office space at $50 per square foot,” Koppel said.


New biotech buildings began popping up in clusters throughout the metropolitan area, from Boston’s flashy new Seaport neighborhood, to Watertown, Fenway, the Cambridge neighborhood of Alewife, and Allston. The pandemic accelerated the trend as the value of commercial office space dropped, pushing some landlords to hop on the bandwagon and convert their properties into labs.

Despite high rents, “the boards never asked questions about how much money was being spent on the real estate. You wanted to be in Kendall Square, you wanted to be in East Boston, you wanted to be in the Seaport, because that’s where it was a cool place to be,” Koppel said.

Allston, like other emerging corridors, is attractive to companies who need room for large new construction, close access to public transit and downtown Boston, and whose workers prefer a diverse urban feel.

“If I were to take my whole team and try moving them to the ’burbs, I’d lose half my team,” Stoner, the Octagon CEO, said. “They want to be where the action is, and Allston is very much part of it, part of that kind of city vibe.”

Coming to Allston

In another sense, however, Allston is special among these emerging hubs.

While it has many of the same transit attractions as the others, from Green Line and commuter rail access, to major upgrades coming with the I-90 Multimodal Project over the next decade, Allston boasts special proximity to academia and research institutions.

And as its crimson neighbor — the richest university in the world — spreads out across the Charles River and down Western Avenue, the neighborhood is poised to see its appeal for biotech companies explode. Harvard’s presence, companies say, constitutes an alluring anchor of brain power and wealth for the growing cluster.

According to Matthew J. Kiefer, a local real estate lawyer and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, much of the neighborhood’s emergence as a biotech hub “is due to Harvard.” The University’s role became clearer in 2013, when they announced their intention to turn part of the neighborhood into a district for science research and innovation known as the Enterprise Research Campus.

The $1.5 billion, 36-acre ERC, with one phase currently under construction and another in the approval process at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, is so far the biggest leg of Harvard’s current expansion into Allston.

Set to bring a hotel, conference center, and several lab and residential buildings, it follows MIT’s Kendall Square model of using a research university to promote nearby private sector innovation — with many added lessons in community-oriented planning, those involved say.

The ERC was put forward as a valuable opportunity for Harvard to create new connections between its students and faculty and the private sector.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean David C. Parkes wrote in an email to The Crimson that “having the ERC in our backyard will be a boon.”

“We hope that in the future many of the startups spun out of SEAS labs by our faculty and students will land in the ERC,” he wrote. “We also anticipate internship opportunities for our students with ERC-based companies.”


According to Thomas P. Glynn III, former CEO of the Harvard Allston Land Company, the University initially debated which sector it would seek to promote with its Allston development.

“The thinking was more of an innovation campus. And innovation could be life science, it could be technology, it could be artificial intelligence,” Glynn said. “It was a little bit whatever the market wanted to do.”

And in the early 2010s, the market — especially in Boston — was biotech.

According to Parkes, however, Harvard does not intend to limit the use of the land to biotech alone. Parkes wrote that Harvard’s land in Allston may eventually “evolve into a cross-sector innovation district” for robotics and other sciences — similar to Kendall Square.

If Harvard’s investment pays off, it will bring new jobs to its students, influence in the biotech sector to the University, and a steady cash flow from leasing out the land or buildings in which biotech companies will be housed.

Leasing will also allow Harvard to maintain ownership over the land, even as it’s under private use. This leaves open the possibility of Harvard using the land to expand in the future.

In the meantime, those involved in developing the neighborhood are excited about its future.

“A formerly dormant industrial part of the neighborhood will come to life,” Parkes wrote.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.