Designing Laboratories for Flexibility and Collaboration

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The blockbuster business model may have paid off in the past, but tomorrow’s biopharmaceutical successes will depend more on rapid and diverse discovery than on any single breakthrough. In the race to get new therapies from research and development (R&D) into pharmacies, next-generation laboratory space could become a game-changer.

Blockbuster drugs typically were made in industrial laboratories — and industrial-strength measures were required to reconfigure those spaces as new research priorities emerged over time. Facing changing patient needs and ongoing financial pressures, biotechnology companies don’t have the luxury of time or resources to undergo major laboratory overhauls.

This presents a clear case for taking a different approach to laboratory design. To maintain (or improve) their profit margins, most organizations must speed up R&D timelines dramatically. The average return on such investments for large biopharmaceutical companies dropped from 10.1% in 2010 to 3.2% in 2017, according to Deloitte research (1). So how can a laboratory boost those shrinking margins?

The Need for Collaboration and Flexibility
Shrewd design and space considerations contribute directly to agility and collaboration in biotechnological R&D. A flexible laboratory design can help scientists shift gears faster, whether to check results, set up a new experiment, or just talk to colleagues about their research. When a dynamic space can be reconfigured to accommodate changing research priorities readily, that research won’t be disrupted by time-consuming renovations.

In a recent survey (2), some top industry leaders told JLL why they’re eager to leave behind traditional laboratory design and how they plan to do so. Flexibility and collaboration were at the top of their list of priorities.

Flexibility: Permanent fixtures always have stymied movement, but traditional laboratories were designed for slower-moving research. Today’s wireless technology and sophisticated building materials enable laboratory designers to build for flexibility with features such as movable benches and plug-and-play research equipment.

Instead of relying on traditional wall-mounted electrical cords, for example, consider hanging them from the ceiling on retractable coils. Thus equipment can be moved rather than chained to the wall. The same principle applies for choosing accessible and changeable fixtures (e.g., a façade with multiple access points over a permanent wall or ceiling). By anticipating future changes, companies can open up research space.

Floors are another consideration. A traditional laboratory often has hallway flooring that isn’t designed to bear heavy research equipment. But with heavier slabs built into those hallways up front, you can move heavy equipment or furniture wherever it needs to go.

Collaboration: Dedicated benches and offices are becoming a thing of the past. Open floor plans provide flexibility and efficiency while making it easy for people to engage with one another. With small collaboration spaces incorporated near research benches, scientists can share ideas without degowning. Outside the laboratory, communal areas such as comfortable onsite cafés or lounges enable even those working on different projects to discuss ideas.

That’s why companies such as Genentech (Roche) and AstraZeneca are moving away from assigned office seating outside their laboratories. Instead, open seating is mixed with private spaces without adding square footage or wasting space.

Creating Next-Generation Laboratories Today
Collaboration and flexibility are becoming must-haves in new laboratories, whether in those built from scratch or created through renovations. New laboratory construction in bioclusters (e.g., Boston’s Innovation Square and San Francisco’s Oyster Point) is trending toward more engaging laboratory environments. Property conversions — e.g., in San Diego and Orange County, CA and in Denver, CO — are incorporating more flexible design features as well.

Designing flexibility into a laboratory does involve higher up-front costs than traditional laboratory design. But many companies consider these costs to be real investments for the future. Flexibility will more than pay for itself every time research space needs to be reconfigured.

Fast-Evolving Technologies: Forward-looking companies are incorporating new concepts such as the Internet of Things in their laboratories, with innovations such as self-cleaning benches and sensor-powered freezers that automatically respond to environmental conditions. Investing in flexible, collaborative spaces today will ensure that laboratories can adapt to tomorrow’s technologies.

References
1
Steedman M, et al. A New Future for R&D? Measuring the Return from Pharmaceutical Innovation 2017. Deloitte: New York, NY, 2017.

2 Journey to the Next Gen Lab. JLL: Chicago, IL, 2018.

Roger Humphrey is executive managing director of the Life Sciences group at JLL; 1-908-698-1379; roger.humphrey@am.jll.com.

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