Pharma construction projects shrouded in mystery

A worker, above, in the office building of the Almac North American Headquarters in Souderton. Work should be completed by August, with the new site accommodating 800 workers and replacing Almac's Pennsylvania operations in Audubon and Yardley.

Ed Szwarc is general manager of Skanska USA Building Inc.'s regional office in Blue Bell. As such, he's an artist of sorts.

And, like most artists, Szwarc loves to show off his work.

There's a practical reason for that, too: to get more business. But when it comes to his firm's creations for pharmaceutical companies, you just have to take his word for how impressive they might be.

The industry closely guards its privacy, mostly for competitive reasons. So when Szwarc was asked recently about an expansion and renovation he is managing for Johnson & Johnson in Spring House, he could not provide the color photos or fact sheets - including, among other things, size, price, and completion date - that he readily hands over on any other type of Skanska construction job.

What he offered was: "It was a good job. Looks really nice. Trust me."

Every pharmaceutical contract comes with nondisclosure agreements, said Szwarc (pronounced "Schwok"). How, then, does Skanska parlay the work it does for drug companies into more customers?

"They give references," he said wryly, adding, "We don't have very good advertising material from it."

With a little prodding, Skanska ultimately got the go-ahead from Johnson & Johnson to release some specifics:

The primary project is a new 155,000-square-foot research center featuring perimeter offices for chemistry and biology functions with adjacent interior laboratory spaces.

Completed in February, the research center has been awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating by the U.S. Green Building Council. Eighty-four percent of spaces have an exterior view. Landscaping and irrigation systems have been designed to reduce potable-water consumption for irrigation 53 percent. Water use has been reduced 40.7 percent through the use of low-flow fixtures, and 51 percent of the building's electricity is provided by renewable sources.

An adjacent 80,000-square-foot research facility is being renovated, including the replacement, upgrade, and redistribution of mechanical and electrical systems. Expected completion is September.

Price? J&J won't say.

About 12 miles away in Lower Salford sits another construction site managed by Skanska. To Szwarc's delight, that client has been leading members of the media on tours of the $79 million project.

It will be the North American headquarters and production facility of Ireland's Almac Group. The company serves the pharmaceutical industry in a variety of ways, including managing the clinical-drug supply chain - from primary and secondary packaging of study medicines to planning how much is necessary for trial, said Jim Murphy, president of Almac Clinical Technologies L.L.C.

Construction is expected to be completed by August. The new facility will replace Almac's Pennsylvania operations in Audubon and Yardley, Murphy said.

The total head count at the new place will be about 800, he said.

Which pharmaceutical companies will they be doing work for?

The companies won't allow him to say, Murphy said.


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or