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Bioscience and Research Facility Design Trends
By Michael P. Vascellaro, AIA, NCARB

Trending any industry these days is like looking into a crystal ball and expecting to find real answers when all you can see are refractions of your own image. The truth of the matter is that there are certain influences on the current state of research facility design that have less to do with the bioscience industry and all to do with the socio-economic realities that affect us all.

In this article we will be briefly review some influences that may have direct impact on the research industry and may show us the way to chart our course as design and construction specialists.

Global Economy
Simply put the world has changed more in the past 5 years than it has in the last 60. It was announced during the second week of February 2011, that China is now the second largest economy in the world. It has overcome Japan and is bearing down strongly on the US. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has bought anything in the past 10 years I am sure. While we were suffering a -2% growth in the US in 2009, China suffered through a “crushing” reduction of positive growth from 9.6% in 2008 to 9.1% in 2009. You might say they weathered things quite well.

Although the US has halted its downward trending that decimated the economy in 2009, the average unemployment numbers for 2009-2010 range between 9.3% to 9.5%. 2011 levels are projected as being not much better at 9.0%. This is being attributed to many factors but high on the list is our own construction industry. While we are experiencing the lowest interest rates in recent memory, that in normal times, would crank a strong construction machine, this is being offset by a risk adverse banking industry. Basically, we have the fuel but the fuel line is clogged. It seems that the banking industry is more interested in short term paper investments in lieu of long term investments in substantial infrastructure that can put people to work.

What effect does this have on research facility design and construction? It means that any investment the research industry makes, it is going to make it with largely their own capital. This is not in itself a new trend. Big pharma has always had the cash to pump into new facilities to develop new drugs. If you can recall just a few years ago when the trends and predictions were that advances in DNA mapping was going to usher in a new era of personalized medicine, well this is still true. We will be seeing tailor made pharmaceuticals that target what our genetic make-up indicates as vulnerabilities in our own body systems. But another trend is hampering these breakthroughs.

Besides other factors, big pharma is having a bit of cash trouble due to some of their drugs patent expirations and in getting their new products to market. They are spending most of their capital now on drug testing, retesting and the modification of existing drugs to stretch their applications. In other words, they are spending more money for less drugs. Recent reports indicate that there are about a third the amount of new drugs in the pipeline as there were 10 years ago and they are spending twice the amount of money on them. This is directly opposite of what was projected and trending in 2001.

Another indicator of bumpy times is the reduction in venture capital to bioscience companies. Because of the uneasiness of the economy, investors are extremely conservative in where they put their money. Venture capital investments rose from $7.8 billion to $12.2 billion from 2004 to 2008. As everything else in 2009, it fell back to $7.8 billion and lost all the ground gained in 4 years. The move forward is projected to be slow with moderate gains as we move into this year.

State funding for state universities is also suffering. With the reduction of state revenues, a majority of state governments are looking at ways to reduce state spending. In addition, some of state project funding in 2010 had some with Federal Stimulus money attached. That is rapidly reducing for 2011. This means that university capital programs will have a double impact of reductions in the coming year, one from state funding reductions, and one from a lack of stimulus money that helped ease the hurt last year. This leaves many universities wondering how they are to maintain current facilities let alone create more new facilities.

Are you depressed yet? Thinking that maybe you should buy another lottery ticket? Well don’t go too far off the deep end yet.

Creative Recalibrating of the Bio-Science Industry
While shifts are being made in the Bioscience industry to accommodate recent economic challenges, the bioscience industry as a whole still outperformed all other sectors of the US economy.

Biotechnology growth rate is the highest because of the need to further develop the product pipelines and Pharma’s push to utilize Biotechs for new product identification. These tend to be smaller companies easier to redirect activities and realign to new research.

Medical Device will remain moderate due to aging population needs. The expansion of nanotechnology and manufacturing techniques provides us with new products that are less obstructive to patients. New techniques for tissue processing and banking are creating better products for implantation.

Testing Labs will have slow to moderate growth to serve the outsourcing needs of bioscience and healthcare institutions.

Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing growth rate will the lowest it has seen for quite a while. You will see more consolidation of the industry and more outsourcing of services.

US companies are seeking more market penetration in developing economies. Many companies sought alliances and built facilities in China to advance their exposure to the growing needs of its economy rather than building new capacity in the states.

Health, Education and Science Collaborations are on the rise. We are seeing more collaboration between companies, more partnerships for specific projects, more creative funding structures involving tax incentives with private money. This is also strengthened by more efforts in “Translational Science”. “Bench-top to bedside” institutes that combine university research, biotechnology development and healthcare implementation have begun to take hold all over the US. With every one being tight with cash, they see opportunities to collaborate talent, relying on each core business focus and shortening the time it takes to produce a workable technology, product or technique.

With the importation of many food items from other areas of the world and the reduction of domestic production, food testing laboratories are springing up to help insure the efficacy of our nation’s dinner table. New packaging technologies have also added new testing requirements for stability and shelf life.

The Bioscience industry is also focusing on reorganization for greater efficiency in what they have currently. Six Sigma analysis and best practices are being implemented to drive out waste and inefficiency.

Design and Construction Trends
As a result of these influences, Design-Build Delivery and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) processes are seeing more interest. The breaking up of large stand-alone projects into smaller more manageable remodeling chunks of capital investment has brought these two deliveries into a new level of significance. Here the owner is pushing to have tighter budgets and quicker schedules of smaller amounts of work. “Surgical remodeling” of occupied spaces is becoming more the norm. They are depending on integrated project teams to deliver full projects utilizing a myriad of different contracting techniques.

With this a new emphasis on integration of design and constructor industries, technology is being utilized to align design, costing, fabrication and construction processes into one. The emphasis in the market has now completely shifted to Building Information Modeling (BIM). This has come from a trendy, non-essential fast way to model architectural spaces into an essential fully integrated modeling package of all building systems. It is being utilized for faster owner/user reviews by seeing full modeled spaces, tighter construction bidding through real quantity take offs, subcontractor participation in design (design assist) through model sharing, use of models in shop drawing stages, clash detection reviews limiting costly on site identification of conflicts in the field, pre-fabrication of building systems reducing time in the field during construction, final as-built drawing production, and facility management software integration for use by owners after building is in operation.

Energy and Resource Conservation
The last but not least of the influences on trends in the bioscience industry relate to the use of energy and resources. Everything from energy efficient building systems to the use of alternative energy sources and conservation of water is being studied. What really is the minimum air changes required in a specific lab, what diversity can we safely take on our electrical systems, how can we minimize the use of hazardous agents in labs to reduce potential exposure to our staff? These are questions being raised and areas where multiple hybrid solutions are being developed.

Over the past few years, we have relied on the rebate programs from utility providers, states, and federal sources to assist in the return on investment (ROI) calculations to implement more costly alternative energy sources. Now, with these funding pools being dried out, our attention is again to lower the costs and emphasizing conservation measures. The technology and products available to accomplish these goals are still in the growth phase but the industry is pushing hard for practical solutions.

As members of the design and construction industry we are all looking at ways to change in order to keep on the right side of a history not yet written. What do we retain, what do we jettison, what we create a new? The influences on the bioscience industry are vast and we as service providers need to see what is happening now, share our observations, and shift our focus to not just to prosper, but to survive.

About the author: Mr. Vascellaro, as Director of Science and Technology of RS&H, is responsible for the programming, planning and design of science and technology applications within research, education and production environments. His background as a specialty architect includes more than 20 years of experience in this field. His experiences with private and public agency clients have provided an insight and understanding of the industry's diverse needs with respect to budget, function, longevity, adaptability and evolving design sensibilities. His project experience includes industry and university-related medical and chemical research laboratories, engineering laboratories, full service vivaria for small and large animals, clean room design and advanced barrier and bio-containment (BL2 & BL3) facilities, pharmaceutical production facilities and schools for veterinary medicine in the US and abroad. For more information regarding their work visit RS&H at www.rsandh.com.


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