Kendall Square passes from tech center to biotech center

Shannon Pendergrast of Ymir Genomics isolates exosomes from biofluids at LabCentral in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
Shannon Pendergrast of Ymir Genomics isolates exosomes from biofluids at LabCentral in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

The three-story brick building at the corner of Main and Osborn streets in Cambridge, on the edge of Kendall Square and the MIT campus, captures three distinct eras in the city’s innovation history. In the early 1800s, it was the site of Kimball & Davenport, the first builder of passenger railroad cars in America.

After World War II, it was the epicenter of the Massachusetts tech boom, home to the office and private lab of Edwin Land, Polaroid’s founder. In between, Thomas A. Watson strung a wire from Boston to Cambridge, and set up the equipment to receive the first “long distance” phone call, in 1876.

Today, the building at 700 Main Street is home to LabCentral, a nonprofit that rents space to 26 fledgling biotech companies. It is surrounded by new buildings and buildings under construction for the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Novartis. And one-year old LabCentral itself hopes to expand soon, more than doubling in size to about 70,000 square feet.

If Kendall Square in the 19th and 20th centuries was about manufacturing and then technology, in the 21st century it is definitively about life sciences — the business of discovering and developing new medicines. The neighborhood has reached a new inflection point in the past two years, with many more biotech companies and investors finding they can’t afford not to have a presence there. Read more in the latest Innovation Economy column in The Sunday Globe.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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