West Berkeley pharmaceutical company may add 80,000-square-foot product-testing facility

Trina Ostrander/Courtesy

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Berkeley’s largest for-profit employer, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, is seeking approval for the construction of a product-testing facility that would add to the company’s existing 45-acre property in West Berkeley.

Still in the early stages of review, Bayer’s preliminary design was approved by the city’s Design Review Committee on Thursday. The application asks for a new 80,000-square-foot building on Grayson Street and for the demolition of Bayer’s three existing buildings on Dwight Way. The pharmaceutical company, which manufactures medication for the bleeding disorder Hemophilia A, aims to test new treatments for the disorder in the testing facility.

“We remain the only place where Hemophilia A treatment is made,” said Trina Ostrander, associate director of public policy and communications at Bayer. “We do everything from the first step of the manufacturing process to actually getting it out the door … So that’s why (the manufacturing) has to happen in Berkeley.”

She said testing such treatments would require a building that can accommodate comprehensive manufacturing processes and that the investment is necessary for the facility to meet demand for Hemophilia A treatment, which remains one of Bayer’s best-selling drugs made only in Berkeley.

According to Ostrander, Bayer’s Berkeley location — under a development agreement with the city since 1992 — has invested more than $550 million in renovations since 2000. Additionally, Bayer’s Berkeley facility is certified with an ISO 14001 rating, a global sustainability standard awarded to companies following environmental management systems.

“The (Bayer) site in general is environmentally ambitious,” Ostrander said, adding that the new testing facility will follow Bayer’s strict sustainability standards.

The company received positive feedback on the Bayer campus addition from local residents and community members during public comment sessions in April, according to Ostrander. Bayer filed for the building permit at the end of May.

“What we’ve done in the past to get this far is to invite people to express their concerns, and we’ll answer them,” she said. “This is an enormous investment in Berkeley that’ll have benefits to the people of Berkeley.”

Building the testing facility would bring more construction jobs to the area, Ostrander said. But the company does not anticipate adding employees as a result of the expansion, according to the Design Review Committee staff report.

In a meeting tentatively scheduled for September, Bayer will present its proposal to the Zoning Adjustments Board, according to Aaron Sage, senior planner for the city of Berkeley.

If the Zoning Adjustments Board approves construction, Bayer will receive a permit that would still require further approval to begin construction around January 2015, Ostrander said. When the building is 75 percent built, Bayer would return to the Design Review Committee before completion of the project.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @@tuanlydia.