Labs are getting smaller, smarter, and forcing owners to rotate quickly
Downsizing, automation, and outsourcing are generally assumed to have the most drastic effects on low-wage, less-skilled workers. But these forces have impacted the country’s most high-tech life science labs, and many in the industry are already seeing how the development and operations of the biotech and lab space are evolving. Consequently.
Courtesy of the Center for Breakthrough Medicines
A lab suite at the Center for Breakthrough Medicines in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
“Outsourcing, robotization, miniaturization, all of the same trends impact every business, even ours,” said Llewellyn Cox, CEO of Lab Launch, a former scientist whose company has developed a pair of incubation and postgraduate lab spaces in Los Angeles. “Companies are looking for smaller spaces. Five to ten years ago, labs were less busy stirring beakers and mixing solutions than most people realize.
A confluence of factors is impacting the way startups, especially those operating in incubators or postgraduate labs, think about their real estate needs. Lab automation, machine miniaturization and advancement, and the advent of more robotics in workspaces mean that existing lab space can be more efficient.
Outsourcing, whether from companies doing basic research or manufacturing, is another increasingly popular way for startups to reduce their footprint. And even though venture capital investments in the field are at record highs, especially early Series A investments, startups are more interested in investing in talent and testing than additional acreage.
“The founders are true serial entrepreneurs at heart,” said architect Matt Malone, chief science and technology officer of Perkins & Will. “If they can keep their overhead costs to a minimum and sell their idea, they can move on to the next idea more easily. ”
Malone said he saw startups in New York City, where he operates, and helped design facilities like InnoLabs, which roll out of incubators, drastically reducing their space requirements, asking for 7K to 15K SF instead of 10K to 20K SF. At the same time, he’s seeing more and more startups turning to contract research and manufacturing options, known as CROs and CDMOs, to outsource basic lab work. These companies are increasing their pace of construction of new laboratories to meet demand.
Part of the changing space requirements are due to the changing and more digital nature of research and development. In LA, Cox said he’s seeing 10K SF lab spaces getting heavier in office, collaboration, and compute space, as opposed to more wet labs. A suite that was half-lab and half-office just a few years ago could be 40% a lab today. This change allows startups to save money, reduce development costs and increase the density of companies within a development.
“We’re all tied to our computer screens now, like all professions,” Cox said.
It changes the way Cox’s company, Launch Lab, develops its new space in LA’s Atwater Village. The new facility consists of private micro-suites measuring 500 SF to 3,500 SF, intended to accommodate small teams and fill a niche for growing businesses of just four or five members looking to grow while keeping costs down. fixed.
Cox said these changes in space needs and operations are also spawning new business models. Illumina, a company that makes advanced genetic sequencing tools, has created its own accelerator program, recruiting startups that need sequencing and can benefit from a space equipped with the company’s latest machines.
Cox also spoke about the foundry model, where startups and device makers work together and co-develop technology, sharing intellectual property and potential revenue in the process.
Other new developments are experimenting with ways to provide additional services to small startups with smaller leases. In King of Prussia, Pa., The $ 1.1 billion, SF 680,000 Center for Breakthrough Medicines combines lab suites and a CDMO, installing viral vector manufacturing suites, cell therapy suites, and manufacturing suites. of plasmids next to a bank of incubation spaces so that researchers are closer to where their therapy is underway.
According to a Deloitte study, Center for Breakthrough Medicines co-founder and commercial director Audrey Greenberg said the facility fills an important niche, especially for the growing field of cell and gene therapy, where 42 % of companies subcontract at some level. With so much outsourcing, they are almost like virtual businesses, requiring only a handful of staff and a small space to operate.
These changes in how small startups operate in the field – a leaner model requiring minimal staff and space until reaching a regulatory or fundraising goal triggers rapid expansion – are putting them on the line. developers challenged to be better operators.
Greenberg said businesses are looking for a “continuum of spaces that meet their needs.” This could include collaborative environments, shared resources, and the ability to suddenly grow within the same facility, campus, or real estate company.
“If I’m a startup, I’m looking for an organization that can run operations, that understands how to manage equipment and support shared facilities,” said Malone.
This all-in-one strategy has been promoted by top owners in the space, including Alexandria Real Estate Equities and BioMed Realty Trust. BioMed East Coast and UK Markets Chairman Bill Kane said he places great importance on organic growth and tenant repositioning. The company, which manages 14 million square feet, is investing more in this repositioning than in its new projects, he said.
“Tenants move faster, change technology faster, and want change faster,” he said.