A French food safety giant is building an innovation center in Philly’s Navy Yard

BioMérieux’s new 32,000-square-foot space will have offices, manufacturing and research and development, plus a warehouse.

Ben Pascal

Ben Pascal is the global head of xPro, which will operate out of Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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In the coming months, French biotechnology testing company bioMérieux will relocate to a new facility at Philadelphia’s Navy Yard.

The multipurpose site will serve as its molecular innovation center, the home of its xPRO program for development and manufacturing of custom testing kits and its predictive diagnostics innovation center.

About 50 people are expected to work in an “extremely energy-efficient” custom-built office taking up the second floor of new construction near the Central Green park and Normandy Place.

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When a food manufacturer’s production is offline due to contamination of an unknown substance, bioMérieux is the type of company that steps in to help with identification and testing to get back up and running. The company will even sequence the genes of the organism as part of its research to determine what the organism might be and whether it will lead a food or beverage to spoil.

“It’s often the industry that approaches us and says we’ve got an issue with these types of microorganisms,” said Ben Pascal, global head of bioMérieux’s xPRO program. “We don’t know what these organisms are and a lot of times they’re not defined. So we do a discovery phase through our augmented diagnostic program that often leads us to building a new [test] to address the problem. And we do it in a really fast way.”

Often that type of development would take several years, but the company tries to do it in less than 90 days, which can save manufacturers money and restart the production line.

Pascal is the co-founder of Invisible Sentinel, which was acquired by bioMérieux in 2019 for $75 million. 

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Invisible Sentinel developed molecular tests to detect contaminants that can spoil foods like poultry or ruin drinks like beer, wine and juices — which is the backbone of bioMérieux’s xPRO program. The custom test kits are even used in the cannabis industry, which is required to pass state qualifications before selling to consumers.

“With cannabis, you’ve got a market that’s grown tremendously, but they are like any other product,” Pascal said. “So we want to make sure from a microbiological standpoint that the product is as safe as possible to consume.”

The company chose the Navy Yard to be close to its manufacturing and pharmaceutical industry customers and allow employees to stay in Philadelphia.

“We looked at a lot of places outside and inside Philly. But in terms of being able to build your own space, there aren’t a lot of places that offer the ability to build really specialized manufacturing outside of the Navy Yard,” he said. “It was also very important not only to stay here because all of our employees live and work here, but the city really helped us along the way.”

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