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Life Sciences Panel: Disruption & Innovation in the Future of Biotech Facilities


Jeffrey J. Talka, Science, and Technology Practice Leader at SLAM Collaborative, led the conversation during the April 12th SMPS breakfast program, Disruption & Innovation in the Future of Biotech Facilities. The Life Sciences Panel consisted of four passionate leaders, Javier Arguedas, North America Partner Development Executive at Waldner Inc., Pat Gallagher, President and CEO at Hereva Consultants, Phani Sukavhasi, Sr. Manager, Global GCP Engineering at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Jerry Nadeau, Executive Director and Americas Head of Facility Services at Novartis Business Services.

According to the panel, procurement procedures, time, profitability and diversity are the top factors impeding the progress of innovative facilities design in the biotech industry.

The panel touched on a variety of topics throughout the discussion including personalized medicine, New York as an up and coming location, educating the FDA, and mentoring millennials. More in-depth exchanges centered around the need for change and collaboration.

The Need for Space
Greater Boston is still the place, “the hot spot,” for the life sciences, according to the panel. With the largest cluster of biotech companies and researchers in the country, Boston’s lab-space is at an all-time premium. A need for postgraduate level workforces, larger firms have continued to settle into Boston and Cambridge. With rising costs and less available lab space, startups have been struggling to remain in the area, but it is essential for biotech companies, both large and small, to be near academia. Panel member Phani stressed the importance of startups to advance science innovation. One solution is for larger companies, like his company Vertex, to sublease space to startups. The proximity brings the companies together for collaboration, and the small firm gets to take advantage of an affordable lease and upscale space with an onsite gym, cafeteria and other services.

A Word on Outsourcing
Outsourcing is an important topic in the field of biotech field, outsourcing property, equipment, services and even engineers. The panel examined the importance of collaborative relationships from both sides of the equation.

Jerry, from Novartis, explained the shift to outsourcing facilities service that has taken place over the last two years. Previously, as the US Head of Facility Services in 2015, he had a team of 192. Now, he oversees facilities services for all of the Americas, from Alaska to Argentina, and has only 36 in-house employees. He conveyed that the key to making outsourcing facilities services successful is relationships. It is important to build connections with the individuals employed by the outsourcing company and to cultivate trust.

Hereva CEO, Pat Gallagher, commented that when your company is the one providing the outsourced services, it is essential that each member of the team immerses themselves in the organization’s culture. They must talk using the pronoun “we,” and act and think as part of the firm.

They all seemed to agree that outsourcing as it relates to the design and specifications for life science spaces, cannot be successful without operational input and collaboration.

Time for Disruption
The panel expressed the lack of time and archaic procurement procedures as obstacles holding back inventive design. Buildings are being developed and renovated quickly with no time to question the approach to design, operations or facilities services. Despite how fast facilities are put in place, they are not keeping pace with rapidly changing world of science. Most designs are similar with immovable equipment, fixtures, and layouts; they are constructed to manufacturer a specific drug.

Procurement’s primary mission is to save money, and while it has its place, it is also stagnating the ability for facilities to evolve. Their cost-saving mission should be counter-balanced by the much larger purpose. More leadership and interdisciplinary team involvement would ensure that the best interest of the company doesn’t become skewed with typical procurement decisions and processes.

Architects and designers are busy, and they don’t have time to change old specifications. But as building are becoming obsolete in only 15 years, the approach to design must be questioned. As things are changing more and more rapidly, we need to become more forward thinking and disrupt the design.

Flexibility is required to adapt laboratories and manufacturing spaces without completely gutting and rebuilding. We need to find new materials that advance the ability to be efficiently and economically flexible when it is time to change. The time to challenge planning is upfront in pre-construction with all stakeholders at the table. Owners, users, procurement, facilities, architects, designers, and engineers must challenge and disrupt the way this has always been done. To make real progress requires collaboration and creating new ways of developing laboratories.

Joann Durette


JoAnn Durette is a Client Partner at JVD Marketing.

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