Life sciences will be a dynamo of the UK economy over the next decade. But the transformation of the sector will lead to very different real estate demands from those driving growths.

The UK life sciences sector is soaring, with the potential to add £8.5 billion to the UK economy and deliver 31,400 new jobs by 2025 as the Government pledges to raise R&D spend as a percentage of GDP from 1.69% currently to 2.4% by 2027, and 3% beyond that. This growth will power future construction activity across the UK and, as such, represents a huge opportunity for the UK property market. But this is a sector undergoing a fundamental transformation. Understanding this change will be critical to delivering successfully future-proofed developments. Here at Knight Frank, we have undertaken in-depth research to understand the future dynamics that will shape the life sciences sector and the real estate life science companies will require.

Workplaces and building designs will need to be aligned with the future life sciences business model and talent requirements. In particular, the industry is converging with technology; meaning that workplaces and buildings must provide outstanding digital connectivity as well as be designed to appeal to digital talent, whether that be through aesthetics, or providing the right mix of spaces to socialise and network, or having the chance to experience downtime or work in different ways. Wellbeing and sustainability will be fully integrated into developments. Companies across all industry sectors are setting ambitious targets around improving wellbeing and sustainability, but it is particularly pertinent to the life sciences sector given that the industry is all about ensuring people live long and healthy lives. For example, when complete, the Spine Building in Liverpool’s life sciences cluster will not only be BREEAM Excellent rated but will also be one of the first in the UK specifically designed to achieve a WELL Standard Certification. The seven “concepts” of the building are fitness; water; light; nourishment; air; comfort and mind.

Future lab design must be based around humans and robots working side-by-side, be adaptable to usage changes and incorporate a greater proportion of dry labs.

Jennifer Townsend Partner, Knight Frank Research

Collaborative behaviours will influence the design of innovation districts, science parks and life sciences corporate headquarters. This extends not only to traditional partnerships with businesses, academic institutions and the NHS but also to partnerships of the future. For example, there will be much greater collaboration with the public, as we all take greater control over our healthcare. Plans for Newcastle Helix have collaboration at their heart. This is exemplified by one of its buildings; The Catalyst. Publicly accessible spaces are located on the lower floors to encourage pedestrians into the site for exhibits, events and activities, while collaboration space is at the heart of the building.

Finally, the form and function of the scientific laboratory is being transformed by next-wave technologies. Future lab design must be based around humans and robots working side-by-side, be adaptable to usage changes and incorporate a greater proportion of dry labs - more conventional office-like environments where the focus is on data analysis - and less on traditional wet labs. Given the high costs and risks involved in R&D, maximising the productivity of the lab space is vital. Integrating smart technology to enable life sciences companies to monitor, measure and analyse the performance of their labs will give developments a leading edge. Life sciences is one of the UK’s dynamo sectors. This is creating multiple opportunities for development and investment. From a construction and project management perspective, understanding the future needs and wants of industry players will be critical to success.