The Southern California Development Forum (SCDF), an organization that provides networking opportunities for those in the real estate community, hosted a panel discussion on October 12, 2021, about the growth in the life science market sector. The panel provided an owner’s perspective of what is valued during the growth period as well as the implications on facilities location and design to accommodate the new technologies.
Kevin Klein, a life science specialist with over 20 years of experience who recently led Global Front End project and portfolio planning at Amgen, served as the moderator for panelists from Kite Pharma (A Gilead company), Amgen, Takeda and AbbVie.
Growth in the Life Science Market Sector in Southern California
While the COVID pandemic has created challenges, it has also reinforced the importance of the life science market sector. Growth in the sector is being driven by the introduction of new technologies such as cell and gene therapies and increased global demand.
“Takeda has a large molecule and cell therapy business where we are looking for treatments for rare diseases around the world,” said Brian Cooper, director of new product introductions at Takeda. “We also do a lot of gene therapy for our oncology group.”
As explained by Cooper, cell therapy is introducing cells into an area to treat a modality. Gene therapy is the process of extracting the material and modifying the genetic component using the gene backbone to develop a therapeutic treatment or grow cells with that modified genetic material.
“COVID has really accelerated the life science industry and everyone has been scrambling to increase capacity so that they can ensure product supply,” said David Steinberg, Director Facilities at AbbVie.
Largely, the life science industry has proven to be resilient and ever-growing. Although COVID has restricted many things, lab work and facility support has continued and become a critical segment in the expansion of research in medicine.
Supply Chain Disruptions and Implications on Capital Projects
The disrupted supply chain has made it difficult to stay on schedule for projects and manufacturers. Materials that used to take six months to obtain are now taking 18-24 months.
“Contract manufacturing is where we are outsourcing to another company to do the work for us,” said Talena Williamson, senior manager of project controls, construction, and external supply at Amgen. “COVID has changed our approach to look more in our region for contract manufacturing because of the travel and supply disruptions across the different continents and countries.”
There has been a glass shortage and companies are getting pushed down the line for materials because they need glass for vials to store COVID vaccines.
“Subcontractors and contractors are doing their best to leverage their stance in the supply chain, but ultimately, the people making the vaccines will get the materials first and the rest of us just have to fight over the scraps,” said Cooper.
Unfortunately, a lot of large capital projects were negotiated before the pandemic began, so subcontractors and contractors are having a hard time meeting the performance clauses that were put in place prior. Many companies, as a result, are restructuring their physical assets based on the supply chain tightening.
Life Science Market Looks Ahead at Sustainability and Digital Design
The life science industry is growing in Los Angeles and a common denominator that has become prevalent among industry-leading companies is sustainability.
“Sustainability is really big with AbbVie,” said Steinberg. “We have large goals to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2025 and 42% by 2031.”
Many companies have adopted a sustainability component in their bidding criteria. According to Cooper, each project is evaluated on its impact on the site, as well as a competitor analysis on other bidders’ sustainability records.
“We are being asked to look forward as far as design in order to reduce our carbon footprint and the amount of labor that goes into the work,” said Cooper.
Cooper explains an example of this reduction looks like a tradeoff between a traditional warehouse with forklift drivers to a robotic warehouse. You can fit the same amount of storage in a quarter of the space and retrieve it in a quarter of the speed.
Fluidity in Office Spaces
There has been a lot of discussions among companies on the right time to return to the office. Williamson says there are substantial shifts happening from pre-COVID to post-COVID.
“COVID has forced a lot of industries to rethink what is really required from an office space and in-person perspective,” stated Williamson. “I think we’re moving towards an increase in larger collaborative spaces with a more virtual approach.”
Many propose companies will migrate away from cubicle setups to larger collaborative areas and the majority of the work will be done from home. The office space will be used for gatherings to network and collaborate among teams.
In summary, flexibility, speed and agility are critical for companies in the life science industry. Those who have jumped on being more fluid in their approach to design and thought processes during the last few years are doing very well in the industry and will continue to propel the future of research and medicine.
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