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  • Writer's pictureRyan Matenchuk

Is Science the New Tech? - The Journey of Life Science Property

Life science property demand (or laboratories within buildings) is changing within Europe. Research has become collaborative and universities are directly supporting and funding start-ups, which in turn is driving a different type of requirement of space for science companies. The new requirement is taking scientists from deep dark places to new, exciting, caffeinated, connected spaces. The new Urban Land Institute (ULI) Life Science & Healthcare Forum looks to explore these new trends seen across Europe and open a dialogue to better understand the implications and opportunities.

@Martin Field and I have been on a journey with ULI to create a full Life Science & Healthcare ULI Product Council for Europe. The Council's aim is to create a voice for the life science and healthcare industry and to bring together connected, but disparate parts of the industry, academia and government. We plan to share best practices from across Europe, but also to build on and learn from the success of the US system. The European model is likely to evolve along its own path, but with an eye to the key pillars of the US system.

Life science property of scale that supports a greater collaboration between academia and business is well developed in the US key markets. Boston, Massachusetts is an excellent example of an established urban life science community. The city, which has around 180m sq. f. of commercial space has 18m sq ft of laboratories or 10% (note 1). Scientists are celebrated within the city and an ecosystem has developed to provide support for the science initiatives. Interestingly, the university start-ups are supported by VC funding and space is provided by commercial operators at a discounted rate supported by large companies including pharma, biotechs and VC funds. These start-ups are the minnows in the ocean of industry development, but seen as integral to the system as many grow to become whales.

On our journey we recently visted Boston and met with key individuals involved in ULI and from industry that highlighted the importance of life science to the City. It is companies such as Novartis who began in Kendall Square with 250,000 sq ft of space and now occupy 2.2 m sq.ft. (note 2) that drive the ecosystem.

This city is conscious of its success within the space, but also have an eye to providing exciting and connected space at a reasonable rent. New districts continue to emerge in Boston that seek to offer lower rents, better connectivity and higher quality of life for scientists. This last factor is important to businesses seeking to attract top talent. The laboratory space requirement is increasingly exciting, well connected and fun space.

The UK and Europe have some of the worlds leading universities and bio and tech companies. The collision of tech (AI, big data, monitoring, etc.) and bio have led to a stronger need for co-location and a convergence of location and space requirements. What are the implications for city planners?

While scientists look for fun and connected spaces, they are also adamant that they are not tech. What is the new European style and character of property that suits and supports scientists?

Finally, who will lead this initiative? Thus far universities and often their VC funds have been creating the space to cater for the burgeoning biotech businesses. In the future, will there be a greater ecosystem that develops to support the industry similar to that of the US model?

Martin and I have already started conversations about these topics with key stakeholders and are growing the Forum leadership team. We plan to continue driving the agenda to bring together industry, government and academia to solve the challenges facing property that supports life science and healthcare.

Last week in Amsterdam at the ULI European Conference, Kadans hosted our inaugural Life Science & Healthcare 1/2 day site visit and panel discussion. The short session received strong interest from individuals in the property industry, but also highlighted how little science occupiers are engaged with property professionals. Within the discussion, we had speakers from outside the property industry. The parallels between early tech property space attitudes and scientists property space attitudes are quite telling. Science above all else, comes first.

Our next ULI Council day is planned for May 2020 and we are holding it at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical research collaboration between the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Cancer UK, Imperial College London, University College London and King's College London. This first-rate research initiative sees over 1,200 scientists working collaboratively with over 10 Nobel prize winning scientists within the building on any given day. The centre delivers more than science by inspiring the next generation of scientists. We are honoured to be hosting our Council day in such a cathedral of science.

Discussion points for our Forum:

  1. Defining the existing life science property market. Are the modern day property requirements for lab space across the UK and Europe changing?

  2. What support is required from large business, academia and government to create the early stage sector of the ecosystem?

  3. How much unmet demand of lab space is there within the UK and Europe?

  4. What are collaborative models between academia, business and government that have proven successful in other markets?

  5. How big is the opportunity for the UK and Europe?

We have a strong and growing leadership of the Forum, but continue to look for those interested in becoming part of the discussion to join. If this could be of interest and you are a member of ULI please reach out to Martin or myself.


  1. Discussion with Newmark Knight Frank, January 2020.

  2. Discussions with Eastdil Secured, January 2020.


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