Drug Development

Pushed by high costs in Cambridge, fast-growing Decibel makes a pioneering leap to Fenway

Not long ago, Decibel CEO Steve Holtzman gathered his 20-member staff together to check out new digs in Fenway, a Boston neighborhood just across the Charles River from Cambridge, which has emerged in the last few years as perhaps the hottest single biotech hub on the planet.

It had everything he was looking for, and less.

Steven Holtzman, CEO Decibel Therapeutics

Steven Holtzman, CEO Decibel Therapeutics

It had a good feel, he says, highlighting a neighborhood that has been made over to include residential space, retail and offices. There was lots to do for the young staff. It was close to public transportation. The Longwood Medical campus was nearby, where he plans to do collaborative work, as was Berklee College of Music, where he’s on the board. And he was happy to jump in as the pioneer biotech in Fenway, taking 32,000 square feet of space in Van Ness, located at 1325 Boylston Street, for a staff that is slated to quadruple in size and hit about 100 by the end of next year.

The “less” part was about the rent.

“With large pharma moving R&D to Cambridge, it has really driven rents through the roof,” says Holtzman. Ironically, they’re moving there to be near the biotech upstarts.  “But they’re driving the rent so high that it’s hard for biotechs to find space that they can afford.”

Holtzman — the startup CEO at Infinity who left a top post at Biogen last fall in preparation for a move back to a startup — has big plans for his $52 million A round, and they don’t include splurging on a location around Kendall Square. Besides, he expects other biotechs to join the migration to Fenway.

Holtzman plans to stick with a trendy “open office” environment, but insists that he’s not talking about simply gathering cubicles together in an office without walls.

“If you have a culture of transparency, communication and collaboration,” says the CEO, “an open plan really facilitates that and echoes your culture.”

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