5 Questions with Raj Vora, PE, Life Sciences Core Market Leader, DPR Construction

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we continue the series with Raj Vora, PE, Life Sciences Core Market Leader, DPR Construction.

Raj Vora is a Life Sciences Core Market Leader, Responsible for business growth, technical expertise, and account management of the DPR Construction’s life sciences portfolio in the region through project and customer development or project-specific roles. Focused on cGMP manufacturing facilities primarily in the cell and gene therapy market and involved in lab, containment, and other research projects.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

I’ve had a part in the local LS industry since 2000, after I graduated from Penn State with an engineering degree and moved to the DC Area.  I spent the majority of my career with a national mechanical contractor with a three-year stint at Human Genome Sciences in Rockville, working on the LSM Project, which consisted of 2×20,000L mammalian cell culture manufacturing trains.

I joined DPR Construction 5+ years ago to grow and support the local and national life sciences core market. I chose DPR because of our reputation in the industry and strong culture and because DPR was a customer of mine in my previous job.  Also, I wanted to focus strictly on Life Sciences, and with DPR annual LS sales exceeding $1B, it was a no-brainer to join the team. 

I am a licensed professional engineer in the State of Maryland because, along with the professional benefits, I wanted something to show my parents for 5+ years of college.

2. You’ve been in the BioHealth Capital Region for a long time, including a few years at Human Genome Sciences. How have you seen this area grow at a BioHealth hub?

The influx of new companies, tremendous growth at NIH and Ft. Detrick, coupled with cell and gene therapy manufacturing taking over most large projects, have been the primary drivers of growth for the region.  More service providers have entered the playing field as well from architects and engineers, GC’s, owner’s reps, and vendors.  In the last 10 years, there has been growth in the engineering-led design-build companies that are successfully securing projects all over the region.  There has also been an increase in industry organizations specific to life sciences, growing from one main organization to, now, over five.

One way to address this problem is for scientists to engage more actively with the public and for science communication and policy to be used as a tool for education and better decision-making. While we cover issues surrounding COVID-19 and healthcare, there are other issues that will need to be communicated: climate change, equitable access of resources across different communities, and improving diversity, equity, and inclusion across STEM fields.

With all of this growth, an increasingly skilled workforce is moving into the area, requiring additional housing and positively creating stimulus for the local economy.  For example, I have lived in Frederick, Maryland, for 20 years, and when we first moved here, there was a lot of green space and farmland.  In the last 10 years, we have seen this land be scooped up for development, both residential and commercial, and all in the interest of supporting the increased LS demand in the area.

3. Tell us about DPR Construction and the role you play partnering with BioHealth companies

DPR Construction is a unique technical builder with a passion for results. Consistently ranked among the nation’s top contractors, DPR specializes in technically complex and sustainable life sciences projects. Our relentless accountability, proven expertise, and collaborative approach allow us to provide a higher level of quality service on projects of all sizes and complexities.

As one of the leading LS builders in the region, we work with several of the BioHealth member companies, both end-users and 3rd party OPM’s, not only in the guidance of the design and construction processes but also in the execution of their projects of a variety of sizes and complexities.

One of DPR’s core values is Enjoyment, and we truly believe in this.  If you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing, then it’s not worth it.  This is a complex industry, and the best way to survive is to have fun.  We hold this core value strong at DPR and have it mesh to our projects and in our interactions with our customers and trade partners.  This makes us different to work with.

4. What are some of the bigger projects you’re working on in the region? Tell us about them.

We are working on several large projects at NIH in Bethesda, all cGMP and involving cell therapy or drug compounding, totaling over $100M. We are also working on a $70M corp headquarters and gene therapy manufacturing facility project for a local biotech and a $90M gene therapy manufacturing facility for a local CDMO. The biotech is working at a clinical scale, so it is more stable than a CDMO, relying on customers and customer demand.

In addition, we are working on large gene therapy projects for both rising local biotech companies and a large national CDMO, explicitly supporting the COVID19 vaccine effort.  DPR’s current tally of Cell and Gene Therapy projects exceeds $1B.

5. If You Could Learn Any One Skill In The World Without Trying, Which Would You Pick and Why?

Mountaineering for sure.  I have always had a keen interest in Everest and the countless articles, books, and documentaries about successful and unsuccessful expeditions. 

Now, I am not foolish enough to think I can tackle the big mountain and summit (nor do I have the money to do so), but I would like to get to Base Camp at a minimum.  My uncle was at Base Camp and described the altitude impact as wearing a plastic bag on your head and running up and down the stairs. 

Sounds fun.

Thank you Raj Vora, PE, Life Sciences Core Market Leader, DPR Construction for participating in the ‘5 Questions with BioBuzz’ series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.

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