Six key considerations for asset optimisation in life sciences

The race for market share and growth through new products, services and locations remains a priority for life sciences organisations. As competition tightens, investment is focusing on research and development to get new products to market as quickly as possible while keeping efficiency and the bottom line front of mind.

Life sciences organisations can achieve competitive advantage and increased efficiency by taking control of their space requirements.

Against this backdrop a number of key trends in the design and operation of research facilities are emerging, including:

  • a drive for increased collaboration and greater utilisation of primary laboratory and support space.
  • a move to more computational (‘dry’) research.

Life science organisations need to consider six factors if they are to successfully take control of their space requirements and achieve maximum efficiency.

"Life sciences organisations can achieve competitive advantage and increased efficiency by taking control of their space requirements."

Six key considerations for asset optimisation in life sciences

1. Type of research to be conducted

Know your proportion of wet vs. dry research.

Computational (‘dry’) researchers require less space and different equipment to laboratory (‘wet’) researchers, and knowing the proportion of each will help you to plan your facility requirements appropriately. For example, on the Francis Crick Institute project in London, initial forecasts of around 20 percent of researchers being computational at feasibility stage increased to 30 percent.

Consider the need for flexibility and adaptability in the long-term operation of your facility. For example whether research areas need will be regularly reconfigured over the life of the facility, as is often the case for life sciences research (hence the drive to ‘flexible lab’ design approaches), or whether laboratories may be reconfigured for alternative uses after a significant number of years, in which case provisions to adapt your facility may need to be included in the design and construction.

2. Collaboration and permeability

Rethink spaces to encourage collaboration.

The last 20 years has seen a transformation in design to create better working spaces and environment.  This trend has continued but the recent emphasis has been around the desire for increased permeability through laboratories and the creation of functional areas to drive greater informal interaction and collaboration between different research groups which has driven changing the layout requirements of facilities. Some organisations are realising the benefits of team-based research and collaboration between biologists and chemists operating in the same laboratory. At the same time some universities are introducing a new teaching model combining scaled up class rooms with wet lab teaching and research space.

3. Operating model

Take the number of researchers, size of research groups and usage of the building into account.

The number of researchers and how they are grouped, the ration of principal investigators, and the number of researchers likely to be in your facility on any given day are all key size considerations. The operating model will change over time but the principles of agile working, which is so successful in commercial environments, can also be applied to research and development facilities.

4. Location, location, location

Whether greenfield or urban, consider the impact of your chosen location.

Historically greenfield locations away from major conurbations have been the most desirable, but this is shifting towards increasingly urban locations and facilities located on existing science parks. Important considerations for science parks and greenfield sites include: proximity to research universities and major airports, types and variety of research based companies in the area, availability of a highly educated workforce or ability to attract high calibre staff, ability to expand the same site, good quality accommodation and schools and the quality of life in nearest city.  

Greenfield sites are likely to have significant infrastructure requirements such as road access, and incoming utilities like gas and power. However, urban sites place greater constraints on physical appearance (to secure planning permission), available space and construction methodology. For example these may entail construction of large basements due to limits on footprint and the maximum building height. In addition, there are greater risks associated with local sources of vibration and electro-magnetic interference (EMI), for which mitigation measures may need to be included in the design of the building.

5. Extent and type of supporting and specialist equipment required

Find out the specialist equipment requirement early.

Your equipment requirements will vary from fixed items such as fridges and freezers to specialist scientific instruments. This equipment is likely to require a combination of power, water, specialist gases, data, and other specialist MEP services. These needs will in turn drive the required loads of the MEP services, and the density will drive the sizing and design of the building HVAC systems. This drives the spatial requirements for plant and MEP services distribution, e.g. risers. Using the full volume of the space is necessary as equipment is increasingly intensive and requires a lot of bench space. Stacking and mobile carts can be helpful and cost effective.

6. Resilience of MEP services

Reduce your risk with a robust MEP system.

Flexible engineering services are extremely important. Scientific research often requires special environmental conditions and long-running experiments. There is a risk that power outages and system failures will cause experiments to fail and require them to be re-run. In addition, animal support facilities sometimes required for research purposes need to be maintained in the event of power and system failures.

Your type of research will have differing requirements on the containment levels for the research facility, which can impact the requirements for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and BMS (building management systems). High containment facilities require HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, higher pressure ductwork systems, and pressure cascade management systems. There is also a further risk of containment systems failing, which would create a risk of pathogens escaping from the facility.

The levels of mechanical and electrical resilience, particularly for power, heating, cooling and air systems need to be given careful consideration as the cost and wider implications of system failures are potentially severe.

Life sciences