The lifesaving power of the empty office block

November 2, 2022
1 minutes

You don’t have to walk far in the City of London or Canary Wharf before you see the lasting impact of the pandemic. Across the city, landlords and real estate investors are scratching their heads with what to do with their empty office sites, as companies have downsized and increased remote working.

However, with the right investment they may soon find themselves sat on a gold mine. As we noted in this post, the conditions look ripe for a boom in British biotech fundraising in 2023. As these life sciences companies look to spend their new cash and expand, they are going to need extra lab space…and fast.

Unfortunately, the UK does not currently have enough wet labs to meet the current demand, let alone this anticipated uptick.

This demand problem is exacerbated by the trend of biotechs and big pharma wanting to establish themselves in the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ – the hub between Oxford, Cambridge and London. The competition for scientific talent is fierce, and the young scientists who will staff these labs typically want to live (and already work) in this southern enclave.

With space increasingly limited in the historic university towns, London is well placed to pick up any new growth. Its empty office spaces may soon be an area of significant development, rather than a sign of decline, and there are many suitable areas for campus-like estates for life sciences / pharma business, in terms of location, infrastructure and leisure and other amenities. 

There are, of course, challenges to overcome in repurposing offices to lab spaces, not least their bespoke structural and configuration needs, as well as potential planning issues. That said, there are a growing number of these opportunities emerging for investors to pounce on, if they are bold enough to think creatively and transact quickly – they (and the Government) will need to do so before these expanding biotechs are forced to look to continental Europe.