RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Local leaders across Central Virginia and members of the state’s congressional delegation are hoping that a $52.9 million investment in biotech will spur economic growth and lead to lower prescription drug prices.

Under the shadow of Richmond’s abandoned Coliseum, wedged between a surface parking lot undergoing renovation and the towering campus of MCV, a group of dignitaries set out on a pair of tuk-tuks to tour a nearby biotech campus in the heart of downtown Richmond.

Dignitaries set out to tour the biotech building on Jackson Street. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/WRIC)

The facility they toured will be just one beneficiary of the $53 million grant, and a flood of local and state support that’s come along with it. The money will support Virginia’s Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing cluster, a web of companies and research institutions stretching from Richmond to Petersburg.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said the investment in pharmaceuticals was a matter of national security.

“We are in an economic competition with China unlike anything we’ve seen, ever,” he said, pointing to the precarity of drug supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not often that Uncle Sam comes up with $53 million.”

Local leaders are also hoping the expansion of the biotech industry will be an economic boon for residents of Central Virginia.

“We haven’t had a lot of big hits like the Chesterfields and the Richmonds of the world have had,” said Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham. “This is our big hit right here.”

Parham, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, and Chesterfield Supervisor Chris Winslow were all in attendance.

The APM cluster began with the expansion of a drug manufacturing plant in Petersburg last year. Run by AMPAC Fine Chemicals, the $25 million facility was championed by former governor Ralph Northam.

Civica, another member of the cluster, announced its own new facility in Chesterfield’s Meadowville Technology Park in September. Civica is a non-profit drugmaker aiming to produce low-cost, generic medications for things like insulin.

And Richmond will be home to an initiative by VCU — alongside VSU — to train “underserved” residents of Richmond and Petersburg to fill the advanced manufacturing jobs created int he new plants.

“This effort, I know, is going to transform downtown Richmond,” Stoney said.

But Warner said the promised economic benefits paled in comparison to the fight against out-of-control drug prices — prices that have had a direct impact on his family.

“There’s no reason I should’ve seen my daughter’s insulin quadruple in price over the 20 years she’s had type-1 diabetes,” Warner said.

While Governor Youngkin did not make an appearance at the event, Secretary of Commerce Caren Merrick did, expressing the administration’s support for the initiative.