Headlines relating to the life sciences sector response to Covid-19 tend to focus on the race for a vaccine. Just as important in the fight against the pandemic is the delivery at scale of accurate and rapid testing or diagnostics. In this regard, Cardiff is a leading centre. Covid-19 has served to accelerate pre-existing plans to make the city a leading centre of excellence in this fast-growing, rapidly evolving field of life sciences.

Initiatives that showcase Cardiff’s leadership in developing Covid-19 related diagnostics include Innovate UK funding being given to Cardiff-based Indoor Biotechnologies to develop a new type of test that can show if someone has developed specific T cells to SARS-CoV-2. Elsewhere, Bond Digital Health recently received significant equity funding to develop the digital element of a new rapid Covid-19 test.

"The diagnosis is for further growth of a life sciences ecosystem in South Wales, but where does the regions excellence lie and what is needed for it to be harnessed?"

Even prior to Covid-19 Wales, and particularly Cardiff, had built a strong reputation in diagnostics and more broadly medtech. For example:

  • The Cardiff Capital Region is home to over 200 companies and 8,000 employees working in medical diagnostics and devices. These include world-leading companies like Gyrus Medical, EKF and PerkinElmer as well as scale-ups like RSR.
  • Cardiff has a strong talent pool and knowledge base from Cardiff University, which is ranked 4th in the country for medtech degrees, and nearby Swansea University which is ranked 3rd in the country. Cardiff University was also recognised as a centre of excellence for precision medicine by Innovate UK.
  • The Cardiff Capital Region Industrial Strategy prioritises the medtech and diagnostics sectors for future investment.
  • The start-up and early stage capital fund managed by the Development Bank of Wales is the third largest funding source for high-growth medtech companies in the UK.

As this reputation for life sciences excellence develops, the interest of the real estate sector is being piqued. In June, it was revealed that Cardiff-based developer; Garrison Barclay Estates plan to invest in a new medtech focused life sciences park on the north-west outskirts of Cardiff. The developer wants the Cardiff Capital Region to invest in a new life sciences park, with up to 225,000 square feet of office and research space, enough for 2,000 jobs. Newport is the location for the UK Government’s Lighthouse Lab. This is a partnership with global diagnostics company Perkin Elmer and will create 200 jobs. The site will be part of UK wide plans to increase testing capacity.

Crucial to the success of any development will be an ability to deliver a product (both physical space and delivery of a supporting ecosystem) that enables these companies to thrive and grow. This requires a deep understanding of the operational reality of the diagnostics occupier. Trends to watch out for include the growth of at-home diagnostics, diagnostics being used to predict disease before symptoms begin as well as playing a vital role in patients’ ongoing care programmes, a boom in demand coming from an ageing population and Covid-19 and the convergence of next wave technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things and diagnostics. This will inevitably translate into demand for spaces that allow technology and diagnostics companies to collaborate, attract, and retain the right mix of tech and life sciences skills, but it will also lead to increased occupation of more conventional office space and experience-led space to educate consumers on emerging diagnostics technologies.

The diagnostics sector will come out of the current Covid-19 crisis in a strong position, having demonstrated its central role in healthcare provision while being forced to accelerate the adoption of next wave technologies to create new products. Increased growth will translate into increased demand for real estate. Cardiff already appeals as a location of choice for diagnostics companies due to its academic strengths, robust industrial strategy and existing diagnostics and tech occupier base. Delivering a future-proof real estate product based on an understanding of customer needs will cement the cities standing as a best in class location for diagnostic companies.