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San Diego Biotech Facilities Take Innovative Design And Technology To New Level

With millennials entering life science fields and technology changing the research environment and processes, biotech companies are demanding highly amenitized facilities and workspaces with built-in flexibility. Biotech real estate experts speaking at Bisnow’s San Diego Healthcare & Life Sciences Summit discussed how these trends are affecting ground-up and redevelopment projects in San Diego’s life science research cluster.

Cushman & Wakefield's Greg Bisconti, Illumina's Leizl Jones and BioMed Realty Trust's Marie Lewis

Opening last month, Illumina’s new 316K SF i3 campus in University Towne Center is a poster child for the future of life science facilities. It is being used exclusively as an office campus, but facilities are designed with the flexibility to transform part or all of the space to research use, said Marie Lewis, vice president and attorney at BioMed Realty Trust, developer and owner of the i3 campus.

Illumina invented the HiSequ sequencing machine that brought the cost of sequencing a single individual’s complete DNA down from $3B in 2003 to just $1K today. The company offers human genome sequencing and analytical services and markets its machinery and related products worldwide.

“You can’t always take an office project and convert it to lab space,” Lewis said.

She said sometimes it is easier to demolish a building and build new, because research space has specific infrastructure requirements. Such requirements are built into the i3 campus. She said biomed tenants have unique needs and engage in highly sensitive work that requires specific environmental conditions, such as consistent airflow, temperature and humidity. Lab facilities must have high-quality building systems and backup power.

Moderator Greg McClure, an architect at Delawie, Cushman & Wakefield's Greg Bisconti and Illumina's Leizl Jones

Lewis said BioMed Realty, which was acquired by Blackstone Group in 2015, is redeveloping an older, three-building, 182,866 SF life science complex to modern standards with lifestyle amenities. She said one building was redeveloped, but the other two will be replaced with new, ground-up facilities.

The company is developing two other build-to-suit campuses for Illumina at Lincoln Centre in Foster City, California, and a 155K SF building in Cambridge, U.K., as well as a 110K SF collaborative cancer research facility, the UC San Diego Center for Novel Therapeutics next to Moores Cancer Center at the UCSD Health Center Science Research Park.

BioMed Realty also recently broke ground on the first phase of the 1.2M SF Gateway of Pacific life science campus in South San Francisco. The first phase includes a 12-story, 450K SF life science research building and two-story, 50K SF amenity building built over an underground parking structure.

Delawie architect Greg McClure, Cushman & Wakefield broker Greg Bisconti, Illumina's Global Facilities and Operations Director Leizl Jones, BioMed Realty attorney Marie Lewis, Pacific Cornerstone Architects principal Sean Tracy and DPR Construction project executive Carlos Crabtree

Designed by the architecture firm of Perkins+Will, i3 comprises three trapezoidal all-white concrete buildings situated to create a 33K SF triangular outdoor courtyard at the center, which features a performance stage, bocce ball court, seating and herb garden. Other on-site amenities include a restaurant, a café, a fitness area and conference facilities. Additionally, a shuttle service provides access to a greater range of amenities at Illumina’s headquarters campus.

“To attract top talent today, you have to have amenity spaces,” Illumina Director of Global Facilities Operations Leizl Jones said.

Lewis said having amenities on-site is an essential convenience for scientists who work nights and weekends on research projects.

BioMed Realty attorney Marie Lewis and Pacific Cornerstone Architects principal Sean Tracy

Jones said this is Illumina’s first 100% wireless environment, but similar technology is being installed at other Illumina campuses to provide a "work anywhere" environment with a variety of open, collaborative spaces, including lounges, break areas and conference rooms that connect directly to outdoor terraces and other spaces to accommodate different work styles and preferences.

Some of the i3 conference rooms are equipped with video teleconferencing systems. Compatible technology is being installed at Illumina facilities around the world to allow San Diego employees to collaborate in real time with employees at other Illumina facilities. Ilumina employs about 6,000 employees worldwide, half of which are in San Diego.

Jones said i3 was designed to target LEED Platinum Core and LEED Silver for Interiors certifications and features wall-to-ceiling glass that infuses the interior with natural light. Building systems reduce energy use by 56% and water use by 36%. She said the buildings also have a 200 kilowatt Bloom Energy Fuel Cell — a “little power plant-in-the-box" — and a green roof.

Pacific Cornerstone Architects principal and architect Sean Tracy and DPR Construction project executive Carlos Crabtree

Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director Greg Bisconti said San Diego continues to attract life science companies with both highly skilled STEM talent and bargain lab space compared to other markets. San Diego biotech space rents for $3 to $4/SF, while rents in the Bay Area are $5/SF, $8 to $9/SF in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and $10/SF in New York City. He said with Bay Area vacancy at 2%, tenants receive limited tenant improvement budgets. In San Diego, where overall vacancy is 8.8%, tenant improvements are included in rent. As companies enter the market or expand, vacancy has become tighter.

DPR Construction project executive Carlos Crabtree said the biomed sector is keeping his company busy, both with new construction and adaptive reuse projects. With ground-up projects, he said the biggest challenge today is the high cost of labor.

“Contractors aren’t hungry for work, so costs are going up,” he said.

His company gets three bids for every trade. He expects the recent hurricane disasters to have a ripple effect, boosting costs for both materials and labor, with manpower going to priority areas to rebuild.


Adaptive reuse projects pose additional challenges. Crabtree said all the systems must be replaced with higher performance equipment to provide fresh airflow and constant environmental conditions. Since office building ceilings are typically 13 feet high, to add ductwork for fresh air ventilation, you end up with a 10-foot ceiling — not the ideal for lab space, he said.

Pacific Cornerstone Architects principal and architect Sean Tracy said biotech tenants tend to want high glass lines and high ceilings to get lots of natural light into lab space.

Crabtree said entitlements for biotech space also add to the high cost of construction, because it takes up to a year and a half to obtain approvals, depending on the size. The timeline for tenant improvements includes four to six weeks for obtaining permits and another 16 to 18 weeks to build out lab space, depending on the complexity. He said using prefab lab setups is an option.

“This is one way to build a better mousetrap and shorten the time frame to occupancy,” he said.

Tracy said open labs and flexibility are the keys to good design.

“We’re starting to see the benefits of flexible, prefab lab setups,” he said.

CORRECTION, SEPT. 28, 1:35 P.M. PT: A previous version of this story had Delawie's Greg McClure's name wrong. The story has been updated.