Shared Lab Space; Beyond The Frontier of Bio/Pharma EnvironmentsOctober 29, 2018 - By Michael Walsh
BOSTON–Ten years ago the phrase shared office space was more akin to subletting a dormant area, or shadow space in an office building to another company. Today it’s not a trend but rather commonplace to see both new and existing development heads pencil in Coworking to their project plans.
Not as well known is the concept of shared bio/pharma space - but certainly not new to Greater Boston. “We wanted to build conceptual engineering [space] that would offer a cheaper and faster environment than if companies built their own,” said Nate Tedford, Head of Foundry Operations for Ginkgo Bioworks, the Seaport based synthetic biology company that develops and licenses organisms. “We were in the Designers Building ten years ago, before the development of the Seaport … before Reebok and all the other pharmaceutical companies were over there,” Tedford told an intrigued audience at the CBA breakfast session, titled, Shared Space: Beyond the Office.
Ginkgo’s real estate footprint branded The Bioworks Foundries has paid dividends, and its operation has grown dramatically over the past decade, along with evolving the design of the space to fit the needs of its diverse bio/pharma clients - as they work on automating and scaling the process of cell growth. The idea of flexible R&D space and biologics is smarter and easier to manage after years of experience, according to Tedford. “We’re now using modular systems [which allow for quicker movement and space design] with companies like DIRT walls,” he attests. A process so successful that within the next two years the Seaport location will comprise 220,000 sf of space at 27 Drydock.
It was the explosion of outsourcing for technology companies that sparked the idea by Amrit Chaudhuri and his partners to adapt transformational shared space for scientists and launch Mass Innovation Labs in Cambridge. “Some of the most successful startups in the country are coming from Cambridge … and in some cases the fastest growing in the world,” the CEO told the audience.
Amrit along with his architectural design partner, Ara Krafian, CEO of SMMA, completed the panel of three, while Cresa’s Paul Delaney took on the moderator’s role - helping to navigate the sometimes deep scientific discussions and intricacies of designing and developing in the shared scientific environment. “We are seeing a lot of opportunities to design space for R&D needs for vertical integrations, Krafian explained. “We’re constantly trying to figure out how to combine the art of design to solutions for science, he confides.
It is a complex business model, unlike the shared office space, declared Chaudhuri. “Our spaces require environments that promote healthy lifestyles and stress-free areas for testing various drugs, for both animals and humans - so that they are living in a ‘normal habitat’.”
Compounded by its extremely precise environmental demands, the top pharmaceutical companies are in constant discovery mode - an industry that Chaudhuri says promotes the need for shared space. “If you’re not making your next drug today, your dead tomorrow,” he explained. Companies are constantly searching for the next technology, robotics and testing equipment, and by outsourcing lab space, Chaudhuri says, saves time and money. “We said, let’s build pharma resources for pharma companies … most companies outsource, this is not a trend it is a reality. In pharma, space changes during the life-cycle of a product - sometimes within a year,” he added.
“The Design challenge for these modular spaces is to accommodate forty companies within a [scientific lab] space, but the companies are unknown,” says Grinkgo’s Tedford. “We’ve reconstructed six times … we have to take into consideration custom HVAC, sterile spaces, power backup, utilities, pipes … we now have our pipes in the ceilings so that they can be mobile and modular - and all the while you think about the environment of protecting the cells,” adds Tedford. Chaudhuri confirmed, “it is such complex workspace, with the EPA having layers of hazards [to be concerned with] … you could cure cancer but have a billion in fines.”
No doubt it’s a daunting and arduous business endeavor that requires scientists to understand what it takes to create space for the science community, yet it is a labor of love that Chaudhuri has seen pay dividend. “We launched a new Cambridge building in July and by September it was one hundred percent occupied,” he attests. “We are in a very different environment [than typically shared office space] where we become so integrated with our clients that we truly become part of their growth infrastructure,” he praised.
It is their understanding of, “the science behind the pharma” that is the key to successfully built and run shared lab space, affirmed Chaudhuri. A growing real estate practice that seems to be on par with the perpetual evolution of its experimental tenants.Amrit Chaudhuri Nate Tedford Paul Delaney Ara Krafian