Converting assets for life science use in Australia

If 2020/21 has taught us anything, it’s the crucial role the life science industry plays in the quality of human life.

The spotlight has certainly shone on biotechnology, research and pharmaceutical companies as they race to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines. And it is certain that investment in life science R&D infrastructure and advanced manufacturing expertise will continue to rise.

So with a greater strategic focus on our life science industries, should asset owners consider converting sites to laboratories for this market?

There are factors to consider on both sides of the argument. On the ‘for’ side, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission says Australia is regarded as one of the best places in the world to conduct clinical trials because of its infrastructure, economic environment and diverse population.

Our biotech hubs in Victoria and NSW have been steadily attracting strong local and international investment, with more than 160 life sciences companies listed on the ASX in 2019 providing a market capitalisation of approximately $170 billion. *

The challenges? There’s a long list of facilities required for any biotech laboratory to operate safely and securely. From floor space to ventilation systems and environmental controls, it’s a tall order. But if met, assets can deliver profitable rental rates for their owners.

Not all sites are fit for purpose but – as is happening in the UK and US – some large, vacant commercial sites can be considered for lab conversions.

If you’re still interested, here’s some food for thought. Nutbrook Group provided the hydraulic and electrical design for a new laboratory fitout in an existing standard commercial building in NSW. We also completed a base building peer review on the mechanical design for the site owners.

Specific design solutions were needed to accommodate the specialised medical equipment and laboratory gases, ensuring they are stored and managed safely. And our design needed to cater for the equipment’s fluctuating and demand-intensive power consumption.

We introduced demand management software to constantly monitor the power supply needed by the building tenants. To avoid exceeding the maximum demand limit of the tenancy and building, the software selectively shuts down the power supply to pre-selected discretionary areas of the tenancy (such as items backed up by batteries).

We metred the non-office areas in the base building services to allow exclusion, meaning the entire site’s NABERS rating was not compromised. Supplementary cooling required for the tenancy was prioritised in the areas operating after-hours, minimising the load on the base building equipment.

It was a delicate project that needed a deep understanding of the life sciences regulations and requirements. But it was achievable and it will yield a secure, long-term tenant for the asset owner.

*Australia’s Life Sciences Sector Snapshot 2019, AusBiotech