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R&D Space in London: a new study to inform the future of life sciences infrastructure

Five years on from MedCity’s groundbreaking report on life sciences real estate demand in London, we have launched a second study to dig deep into the ecosystem’s requirements for space.

Set in early 17th century London against the backdrop of a plague, Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist is one of the earliest depictions of the laboratory as a specialist location for empirical investigation. First performed in Blackfriars in 1610, it predated contemporary scholarship on the role of “place” in the production of knowledge. But more than four centuries later, and in the real-world setting of a recent pandemic, scientific communities in the capital are more aware than ever of how purpose-built spaces enable innovation, especially when located near potential collaborators.

Planning for Growth

During his time as MedCity’s head of international & cluster development, Phil Jackson had speculated that the pace of life sciences progress was hampered by a lack of appropriate workspace and infrastructure in London. Phil sadly passed away in March this year but one of his legacies is the demand study he commissioned in 2016.

Phil’s idea was to find out whether life sciences businesses—from biotech start-ups to big pharma—could find premises that served their needs. The study was designed and carried out by Creative Places, the life sciences planning consultancy, and the results were published in March 2016 in a report entitled Planning for Growth–Demand for Healthcare R&D Space in London.

No room to grow

Planning for Growth concluded that the life sciences sector in London was thriving but did not have room to grow. It documented an unmet need of 200,000 sq feet of work and lab space, excluding multinationals and excluding Imperial College’s White City development which was already underway.

The report also recommended co-locating commercial R&D, universities, research institutes, hospitals and healthcare centres to enhance collaboration. Distributed to policy makers, property companies and industry leaders, Planning for Growth informed subsequent life sciences planning and construction in the city. Co-funded by the Greater London Authority, the report was used by the authority in developing life sciences policy for London.

Several significant developments materialised, supported by evidence from the MedCity report. These include the 800,000 sq foot British Library project at St Pancras, which on completion will form one of the largest science and innovation centres in Europe, and MSD’s £1 billion London Discovery Research Centre in King’s Cross.

Current demand

But where are we now in 2021 as we emerge from the pandemic? Anecdotal evidence suggests that despite Covid and Brexit, demand for life sciences space hasn’t gone away. According to a recent publication by Savills, London suffers from a shortage of appropriate science-related workspace, particularly laboratories, to accommodate company demand as a result of capital injection and higher headcount.

Meanwhile in the US, CBRE reports that total lab space grew by 12% in 2020, with 11 million square feet of life sciences research and manufacturing space under construction. And as a result of dwindling retail footfall and increased remote working, commercial properties are being converted into R&D facilities.

A new study

These views from the real estate industry offer a top-line narrative, but the life sciences sector is complex. MedCity’s new study, now underway, will provide an indepth breakdown of life sciences growth in London, with granular analysis of space requirements for life sciences subsectors and related medical technologies.

We are working again with Creative Places to carry out the survey and produce the final report, which is due for publication later in the year. Creative Places CEO Jonathan Burroughs observes that with ever more funds being raised by growing companies and some of our key sub-sectors expanding rapidly, we need to know more about the nature of property that might be required, and where—to help influence the pipeline of space that becomes available.

Already the outcome of this second MedCity demand study is being anticipated by London’s policymakers, planners and developers, who need evidence to support their strategies and expenditure for the future.

Can you spare 10 minutes to complete the demand study survey? We are looking for input from life sciences companies of all sizes. Your input is vitally important in shaping future workspace provision for life sciences. Find the survey here.

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