Future of Life Science
It’s not always easy to settle swiftly into a large organisation, regardless of ability or experience, but Tarling and Morrice developed an easy camaraderie barely before the latter had his business cards printed.
They’re not quite yet at the point of finishing each other’s sentences, although they do share a compelling vision of where life science is heading - and what the next generation of science parks will look like.
Tarling’s imposing CV features work on such diverse projects as the reconstruction of downtown Beirut, the creation of France’s Centre Pompidou-Metz and the construction and fit-out of the cell and gene therapy catapult in London’s Guy’s Hospital.
As global head of life sciences and director for Gleeds, he supports its local teams across an array of specialisms: from procurement and risk assessment to programme management, and from construction finance monitoring to contract administration.
Tarling’s focus on life sciences began some 20 years ago, and he’s now worked on 18 separate science and business parks which have shaped the Cambridge cluster and had a central role in the delivery of more than 5.5m sq ft of new space, primarily for life sciences R&D.
“From a strategic perspective, most of those schemes have nestled between the three pillars of higher education, the technology sector and pharma companies, although some were in healthcare and agri-tech,” he recalls.
“The organisations leading such projects have ranged from private sector developers and venture capitalists to REITs and higher educational establishments.
“We also work with the pharma companies who tend to require a slightly different kind of building stock, with lab space, manufacturing facilities, warehouse space and logistics.”
Morrice has been in the construction industry for more than 30 years, of which 25 have been focused on life sciences, pharma and biotech.
A director in Mace Group’s pharma and technology interests for well over a decade, he then led IPS’s construction business across UK, Europe, before a spell with Turner & Townsend brought him to Gleeds as director and life sciences sector lead for the UK and Ireland.
He’s been involved with large-scale project management offices and an array of innovative manufacturing schemes throughout UK, Europe, as well as in India, the US and Africa.
Morrice’s first foray into life sciences came in the early 90s when Glaxo SmithKline began developing what is now its global R&D campus in Stevenage.
He’s since managed multiple large-scale design and project delivery teams within a PPCM (project, program and commercial management) environment.
“Much has been what I call pharmaceutical consultancy, which is the ‘front end’ of design for these facilities, then delivering through the design, construction and CQV (commissioning, qualification and validation) stages, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with most of the top 10 pharma and biotech companies,” recalls Morrice.
“It’s very exciting for us to get Tony on board, particularly as we see the sector evolving over the next few years so that manufacturing facilities and R&D space are increasingly delivered together and being embedded into life science clusters,” admits Tarling.
“Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how the government’s policies and investment strategies address the need to deliver the very significant amounts of new lab space which our life sciences and pharma sector requires.”
Tarling also notes the ongoing evolution of the UK’s science parks away from their traditional focus on R&D space as they increasingly attract a wider mix of occupiers, and his observation brings a nod of agreement from Morrice.
“We’ve seen on the R&D side over the last decade, particularly post-pandemic, that our client base has changed its model with regard to science parks,” he says.
“BioMed Realty, Breakthrough Properties, Bruntwood SciTech, IQHQ, Kadans Science Partner, Mission Street and others have a model based on the delivery of new life science space and the creation of new life science platforms.
“They are operating simultaneously across multiple sites in different locations to build real estate portfolios which appeal to the broadest section of the market, by offering space for potential tenants of different size, scale, and maturity.
“They want to attract companies across a diverse range of niches and to provide tenants with both start-up and grow-on space, so they are with them for the long-term.”
Tarling considers Mission Street’s founder and CEO Artem Korolev to epitomise the new breed of science-focused real estate developers, so was delighted to welcome him to its Constructing Science (CS) consortium which was formally launched in July 2023.
“He really gets the platform model, the evolving science community with spinouts from academia, and advocates that modern life science estate buildings must be genuine eco-systems, and not just occupiers simply operating within their own space,” says Tarling.
“Artem also understands the scientific requirements of tenants, and the research of the universities and other educational establishments involved with his projects. He is very driven, very focused and Mission Street immediately became a very valued member of our consortium.”
The collective aim of all CS members, which include Buro Happold, CPC, Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), EEDN, Gensler, Hoare Lea and MedCity, is to give non-technical investors greater insight into the UK’s life sciences’ sector and its pressing need for new lab space at scale.
Morrice points out that as of June 2023, C&W had identified active demand for more than 2m sq ft of lab space, just within the Golden Triangle.
“Over the last 18 months or so, we’ve seen many new entrants coming into the life science market, but without really understanding how the constituent elements of such buildings have to be designed and how the space will operate,” he says.
“These buildings and their occupiers must be very actively managed, which is of course very different from traditional office space, so I was pleased to see Constructing Science being launched and am very pleased to now be part of the initiative.”
As the conversation switches to how the next generation of science parks will look and operate, Tarling highlights Bruntwood SciTech’s (BST) ambitious plans for Melbourn, some 11 miles outside Cambridge.
The Manchester-headquartered developer’s £250m masterplan envisages c400,000 sq ft of lab and office space being delivered over the coming decade, with space for more than 70 science and tech businesses, alongside enhanced amenities for tenants and the village population.
“There’s going to be a wide range of occupiers, and also a diversified mix of accommodation and building sizes, from start-ups and incubator units to commercial-grade labs, institutional occupiers and Big Pharma,” says Tarling.
“The new approach, pioneered by Bruntwood SciTech, Mission Street and their peers, is to fully engage with communities and explain what their schemes will deliver in terms of sustainable employment and other benefits, whilst also being willing to tweak proposals to address local concerns.
“Opening up science parks, rather than hiding them behind fences and barriers, is an integral element of their ethos and I believe it will soon become a trend we’ll see elsewhere.
“The next-gen approach understands the tangible benefits of opening up parks and innovation districts to the educational institutions in their areas, so they become engaged at multiple levels with the communities in which they sit.”
Tarling and Morrice are clearly once more of like mind, as the latter nods approvingly to hear the former’s thoughts.
“From my perspective, looking forward, there are several interesting discussions to be had with the public sector, particularly around DEFRA which is a slightly different proposition,” says Morrice.
“My focus is on helping to commercialise innovative ideas by helping start-ups bring them to market, which in the past was the domain of the top ten pharma companies.
“It is always challenging to bring embryonic products through to manufacturing and it’s an expensive process, so the start-ups can’t afford to make financial or strategic missteps, and they really do need support.
“It’s not what you might imagine from watching documentaries about amazing technical advances, but very few start-ups reach commercialisation.
“A small number get through the clinical trials, and even fewer eventually deliver a successful product. Equally, some start-ups, which are often spun out of academic establishments or the NHS, reach a certain stage, then divest their innovations to big companies.”
Morrice shares Tarling’s perception that mindsets are changing, among developers and investors looking to deliver life science space.
“Even a few years ago, you’d hear people in property refer to ‘commercial R&D hotels’, because they were just renting rooms and didn’t really care about what happened there,” he says.
“Now, you’re seeing the more enlightened pharma companies helping start-ups, not least because of the huge costs of R&D. Covid really has changed their model - and for the better.”
They also note the wider community’s post-pandemic realisation that, although pure research still has its place within science, greater commercialisation of products is desirable.
“Increasingly, the questions we face are whether start-ups should look at small-batch production or partner/sell their ideas to the pharma/biotech giants, but we are not seeing blockbuster products,” says Morrice.
“Personalised medicine is by definition made at small scale, and not by the millions. Everyone’s searching for the next ’big thing’ which is why cell and gene therapy (CGT) is very popular and rightly so. It’s the forefront of innovation and transforming the way we treat and potentially cure certain diseases.
“CGT took a back seat during the pandemic when everyone was scrambling for vaccines, but now it’s come into the forefront and it’s an area where the NHS can, and should, play a major role.
“Tony’s right, and that’s very much what we’re seeing across established science parks and the new ones which are evolving,” adds Tarling.
“Small-scale manufacturing is now being embedded within these locations, rather than just taking place in the Far East, Central Europe and in the Americas.”
“There’s much greater focus on sustainability and reducing the length of supply chains, and so there’s a clear switch to manufacturing locally, and for uses in precision medicine, rather than generic drugs being produced at mass scale.”
This feature first appeared in the UK Science Park Association's 'Breakthrough' magazine published by Open Box Media Communications.