The supply-demand curve in life science facilities and employment is escalating, for mostly obvious reasons, mostly related to the pandemic. The demand for pharmaceutical and biotech facilities, as well as higher ed STEM facilities among others, is outstripping supply of adequately designed and provisioned space.

Venture capital and other funding resources are strategically investing in life sciences and biomedical research for new construction and major retrofits of existing space. Life sciences facility venture capital funding hit a new quarterly record of approximately $10 billion in Q1 2021, more than double the amount of Q1 2020.

The spike in demand is unprecedented, according to CBRE, with predictions of more than $90 billion to be invested in the sector in 2021. Life sciences employment reached a record high in March, driven by biotech industry advancements. And, the more than 15.6 million sq. ft. of speculative construction underway as of Q1 2021 is not enough to meet current tenant requirements for space.

Why, and what does it mean to you?

The increased need for lab facilities, especially in biotech-dense areas like Boston, New York, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco and others, represents new construction, replacement of outdated facilities, accommodating modern research tools and methods, and sector employment growth. Funding to emerging markets also increased as companies view life science as a road to economic development.

A life science project is complicated, whether new construction or existing building retrofit, and requires considerations for numerous code-related and other planning activities. A Construction Dive article this week features major AEC firms discussing the demand for life science facilities, and how to make the most of opportunities to design, build and retrofit them.

  • Building codes and facility zoning. Building codes allow only a certain quantity of chemicals in a building. In a typical office building, contractors generally do not plan for how many chemicals will be going into the buildings. Existing codes favor chemicals on lower floors, but, " generally you're going to do some things to that zoning that allows you to address and increase chemicals on the upper floor through other design strategies," according to Scott Strom, one of DPR's life sciences core market leaders.
  • Upfront planning and programming for flexibility. In the life sciences market, user requirements are often unknown at the outset. The key is to remain agile and plan for flexible space.
  • Retrofits. Building professionals need to understand how traditional office buildings and their HVAC and electrical systems can be retrofitted to serve the needs of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
  • Infrastructure needs. A life science building requires much more robust infrastructure and floor to ceiling height while also providing redundant power, specialized HVAC equipment, and greater loading capacity.

The post-Covid future of life science research, manufacturing, and educational facilities is bright, and the economic opportunity for building professionals like commissioning providers means it’s a good time to investigate this burgeoning market and hone your lab commissioning skills!