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JLL, a real estate and investment management firm, recently released a new report on three trends shaping labs for the future of life sciences R&D.
On Feb. 15, 2018, JLL, a real estate and investment management firm, announced the publication of a new report, Journey to the next gen lab, that discussed three trends that are shaping labs for the future of life sciences R&D. These trends include shorter R&D timelines, ongoing cost pressures, and sudden shifts in research priorities, which are driving the way labs are designed and where they are located. Flexible space and access to talent are the keys to agile R&D, according to the company.
According to the report, the average return on R&D investments among large biopharmaceutical firms has declined from 10.1% in 2010 to 3.2% in 2017. Companies are increasingly seeking collaboration and more flexible facilities to remain competitive.
"As a result of organizational cost pressures and a stronger focus on shortening the product lifecycle, R&D real estate is becoming multiuse," said Roger Humphrey, executive managing director and leader of JLL's Life Sciences group, in a company press release. "The result is a drive toward highly flexible and attractive workplaces that appeal to not only scientific, but technical, talent."
JLL uncovered three trends pointing toward the future laboratory space through interviews with 15 leading biopharmaceutical and medical device company executives: designing for flexibility and collaboration; less wet labs, more computational science space; and focus on talent recruitment and retention.
Because scientists are dealing with rapidly shifting research priorities, they need space that can be easily reconfigured to accommodate different kinds of research and facilitate interaction with colleagues. Mobile benches and unassigned workspaces, for example, allow for fast changes in personnel and the type of work being performed. Scientists want flexibility that allows them to finish studies as quickly as possible, according to one executive surveyed in the report.
"Behind the scenes, flexibility begins with infrastructure," Humphrey said in the press release. "For example, you can hang retractable electrical cords from the ceiling, so you're not limited to placing equipment against a wall. You can build thick floor slabs into the laboratory corridors and hide technical infrastructure behind a façade, so you can easily move people and equipment."
Science has become increasingly integrated with data and analytics, as evidenced by the digital transformation of R&D. Wet labs, which were once the dominant space for life sciences research, are shrinking while flex space and office space for computational science are growing because scientists are spending more time analyzing data.
"A traditional R&D facility would consist of mostly lab space and a small proportion of office," Humphrey said. "In a few years, those proportions will likely shift to equal parts web labs, flex space, and office space for the data scientists."
JLL has noted in its annual Life Sciences Outlook report that biopharmaceutical companies have intensified their drive to be near leading academic research centers and the supportive R&D ecosystems that surround them. Despite high rents, cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and Boston continue to attract leading companies that want access to resources and talent-including laboratory scientists and the data scientists needed to work with today's voluminous data.
The need for talent is also driving a growing focus on amenities, aesthetic appeal, state-of-the-art equipment, and attention to sustainable design, according to JLL. Rather than hiding R&D space deep inside a facility, some biopharmaceutical companies are creating lab spaces on the perimeters of their facilities to showcase cutting-edge technologies and abundance of natural light.
"We're seeing a growing trend toward creating engaging, attractive labs and office workplaces," Humphrey said. "The goal is to inspire creativity and foster well-being, with natural light, rich amenities, and comfortable places for formal or informal collaboration."