by Brooks Slocum and Adam Spagnolo
A surge of private and public funding is redrawing the commercial life sciences map. Whereas biomedical and pharmaceutical innovation has historically clustered in Greater Boston, San Francisco and the Research Triangle, investments in commercial life sciences facilities have overflown to emerging markets and clusters throughout the nation. A key consideration to attracting life sciences tenants is understanding market maturity and its impact on the potential facility types needed by growing companies. Owners and developers are simultaneously looking to SGA to navigate this evolving landscape.
Real estate organizations know to engage SGA early in their life sciences journeys because there are many subcategories of laboratory, and in this capital-intensive realm, there is an advantage in making flexible buildings that can accommodate different science types. It is even more critical to leverage SGA’s expertise because we can predict clearly what the science will be in an emerging market.
SGA advises investors to understand what the firm refers to as the Market Maturity Pipeline, which centers on the various facility types tenants in the life sciences market may require, from basic research to corporate headquarters to packaging and distribution. Market maturity is distinct from company maturity, which is also distinct from product maturity. The three move independently, though a start-up with a new project can mature all three at the same time.
Programming distinctions depend on a market’s stage of emergence. Accelerators and incubators have to come first when a metropolitan area is entirely new to life sciences; SGA often advises real estate organizations to position properties as incubators and accelerators, which have to come when nurturing local business. These spaces may require less robust mechanical and structural infrastructure versus more mature facilities such as cGMP. Understanding the different infrastructure requirements enables an owner or developer to better market a property that closely aligns with the potential needs of prospective tenants. There is also an alternate path, which is when a large mega-company moves into an area previously not involved in biopharma to take advantage of an educated but untapped potential employee base, either in research or manufacturing.
In a more robust market, where startup companies have progressed to later stages of R&D, SGA advises clients to embrace the greater infrastructure and specialization that corresponds to process development and pilot manufacturing. In fact, making a lab space extremely flexible and adaptable generally means lots of infrastructure to accommodate anything which might happen, while more specific labs can be built “lighter.” In addition, SGA has developed techniques for pivoting a building’s program toward office uses – or, conversely, to heavier R&D uses – as the facility and tenant needs evolve.
Irrespective of location, speculative real estate for life sciences companies is itself emerging. The idea that there are perfectly designed real estate spaces for every single stage of a company’s life sciences journey is a relatively new phenomenon, and it has enabled companies to spring into existence at a time when discovery and development are faster than ever. Real estate’s limited track record demands a trusted partner, in turn, and SGA ensures that facility programming and design correspond to the nuances of any given market’s maturity.
Brooks Slocum, AIA is a principal and Adam Spagnolo is CEO of SGA.