London sees boom in demand for lab space with big pharma and unis leading the pack

Asia's Tech News Daily

London sees boom in demand for lab space with big pharma and unis leading the pack
© Provided by City AM

A lot has been said recently about the lack of laboratory space available. London, as a key hotspot, is no exception.

While landlords are taking tentative steps into the life science sector, few are willing to make significant financial commitments on speculative buildings without knowing exactly where demand is coming from.

What, then, are the indicators of increasing demand that will help to encourage future development? In the first instance, trends around increasing venture capital investment are reassuring.

In the first half of this year this totalled £853m, a jump of 228 per cent when compared to the £260m recorded for the first half of 2020, which was no doubt accelerated by the pandemic.

Yet, when looking at more ‘normal’ times, the first half of 2021 was still 95 per cent higher than the same period in 2019, at £438m, according to the figures from Savills, shared with City A.M.

It has already been proven that there is a direct link between a company raising capital and their subsequent real estate needs.

For example, Autolus Therapeutics more than doubled the size of its space in White City from 15,000 sq ft to 32,000 sq ft at the point of raising £80m in a Series C funding round in 2017.

“Unlike more established sectors, where you have the benefit of historic take-up and upcoming lease events, there remains a lack of intelligence when it comes to life sciences,” said Tom Mellows, director of UK science markets at Savills.

Life sciences one of the hottest asset classes in the market, with investors predicting a rise in occupational demand as a result of growing VC volumes.

Savills’ Tom Mellows told City A.M.

However, “while it is important to appreciate that London is at the heart of some of the most exciting emerging fields of scientific discovery, actual leasing transactions have been limited when compared with other sectors. For this reason other metrics must be considered when looking at the pipeline of occupational demand,” he added.

Universities and big pharma

University spinouts are another indicator of a potential uptick in requirements.

For instance, Imperial College and UCL have helped to establish 76 successful life science and med-tech businesses in the last decade.

Yet this is a relatively small number when compared to Oxford University who spin out around 20 companies per year, and even smaller when looking at MIT in the US.

Despite this, the commercialisation of Intellectual Property is improving and will no doubt pay dividends as it continues to evolve.

There are also currently 439 London based companies that are seeking investment, 130 of whom are at a more advanced stage of funding.

“Although there tends to be a high attrition rate among start-ups in this sector, once they get beyond early stage seed funding, the failure rate drops significantly,” Mellows said.

Consequently, the three main incubator buildings in London, the London BioScience Innovation Centre (LBIC) in  King’s Cross, Imperial’s I-HUB  and Scale Space, both in White City, are seeing increasing demand from early stage companies wanting to take more office and lab space.

“Big pharma is also taking more space in London to be closer to these emerging bio-tech firms. MSD, Novartis and AstraZeneca have all recently completed deals and it is likely that more may follow. This trend is something that has already been seen in more mature locations across the globe,” Mellows said.

“Ultimately, while we may lack the traditional metrics to track life science demand, there is no doubt that it is there and growing,” he concluded.

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