Five takeaways from the 2023 Bisnow Life Sciences Real Estate Conference

Mace was pleased to support Bisnow UK Life Sciences Real Estate Conference held at the White City Innovation District last week. The sell-out event saw investors, developers, consultants, suppliers and contractors all come together to discuss how the UK real estate industry can deliver on the demands of a booming life sciences market.

At a panel chaired by Matt Soules from Savills, and including myself representing Mace, Richard Surma from AstraZeneca, Anna Strongman from Oxford University Development and Rob Partridge from AKT II, we debated the future of the market and the key role that the supply chain looks set to play. But what is the current state of play and what opportunities lie ahead? Here are my five key takeaways from the session.

1. Market still buoyant despite the volatility of the last year

The general feeling in the room was that the market, on the whole, is still in a good place. The slight slowdown we’ve seen recently is likely to be temporary with the long-term picture still looking very positive. With the UK’s ageing population, the government is continuing to invest in healthcare, thereby positioning life sciences as a top sector for investment. And while both material inflation and availability has led to market volatility over the past 12 months, we are now starting to see this picture improve.

2. Carbon now top of the agenda

When it comes to priorities, sustainability continues to rise up the ranks. Whilst labs only take up a small proportion of the total buildings in the UK they can use up to ten times more energy than the average building. Developers are now writing carbon targets into contracts, and this is driving change across the industry. However, the larger shift has to be in the materials we and this will be spearheaded through collaboration, both with the supply chain and through initiatives such as SteelZero and ConcreteZero.

3. We shouldn’t overlook the ‘S’ in ESG

Despite carbon reduction being at the top of everyone’s to-do list, the panel warned against forgetting the social aspect of sustainability. A central part of this is engaging with local communities and understanding their needs. This also links to planning – if you want to get planning permission it is essential you can present the case for the social benefits your developments will bring. For example this should involve not only demonstrating how your asset will help cure disease but also how it will help to deliver better roads, schools and local amenities.

4. Industry needs to better harness data

While the industry is making progress on the journey toward carbon neutrality, it is still lagging behind on its use of data. The panel discussed how the life science industry can often be operationally inefficient when it comes to its facilities, and spoke about the need to understand how we currently utilise lab spaces using data - before building new ones. Achieving this at an industry level will require a cultural shift and a move to greater openness and collaboration.

5. Early supply chain engagement can help us all do more

One of the running themes from the panel was that the earlier a contractor can engage on a development, the more we can do collectively on each of the important areas outlined above - that’s identifying the right materials, reducing carbon, enhancing social value and harnessing data. The developers or asset owner should be utilising the input and expertise of the supply chain at the design phase, with that early engagement offering the supply chain greater certainty of their pipeline. Ultimately, it’s a win, win.

The UK remains one of the top locations for life science development in the world, with this position only set to get stronger. As an industry we are being expected to deliver these developments in a more sustainable and socially conscious way – and to do this will require collaboration from everyone in the supply chain.