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Speed of delivery should be front and centre in the UK’s drive to be a Life Sciences leader

Claire Gott, Head of Industry and Deputy Head of Structures

Claire Gott, Head of Industry and Deputy Head of Structures | WSP

5 min read Partner content

WSP’s Claire Gott discusses the importance of delivering major pharmaceutical and laboratory infrastructure to drive the UK towards its future as a global leader in Life Sciences.

The UK has set out to become a global leader in the Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical sectors. Last year, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recognised the high potential of the industry to deliver significant jobs and growth, announcing a record package of support, including £520 million funding boost for manufacturing.

Then, in his Spring Budget announcement, the Chancellor announced a package of support to innovative R&D and manufacturing projects in the Life Sciences sector, as well as Automotive and Aerospace. This increased drive to promote growth in the sector also highlights the critical importance of having the right infrastructure in place to achieve it – design, accessibility and location being key to attracting talent and investment into Life Sciences. Speed of infrastructure delivery also remains crucial in terms of enabling innovation and achieving scale.

Learning from the past

In July 2021, the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory opened in Royal Leamington Spa as one of the largest diagnostic testing facilities in the world. The project, involving the retrofit of an existing 225,000 sq ft logistics building into a state-of-the-art PCR sample processing facility, was a key part of the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, incorporating nine separate lab lines capable of processing thousands of tests a day. This project was also remarkable in speed; the time usually taken to complete a project of this scale is 30 months, but the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory was completed in just 9 months.

We can therefore learn a lot from the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory as it highlights the importance of carrying out future projects at speed all while managing enterprise risk, incorporating new technologies, and keeping sustainability and adaptability front and centre.

Building these projects at speed has important economic benefits, bringing new jobs, attracting investment and fostering new research and development for years to come. Moreover, the UK should learn from this experience and develop its capability to rapidly retrofit industrial buildings into state-of-the-art labs.

Expanding horizons

Typically, life science sector hubs have been focused within the so-called “golden triangle" of London, Oxford and Cambridge. But whilst reinforcing the huge role that these areas play, we also need to develop further across the UK. Currently, demand heavily outweighs supply when it comes to laboratory space, so quick delivery and more option on locations will prove beneficial.

The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory was an excellent example of this, extending diagnostics further afield than established hubs. Moreover, AstraZeneca’s recent call for government funding to boost their existing vaccine plant near Liverpool, represents an industry leader carving out important Life Sciences provision in other UK regions.

By retrofitting industrial buildings and improving on existing infrastructure, we can drive research and development within life sciences all whilst accounting for environmental damage, lack of supply and regulatory hurdles. Industrial buildings are also incredibly useful logistically. They lend themselves to retrofitting with modular, offsite construction techniques and enable contractors to work inside whatever the weather. Usually set in industrial estates, they sit far from residential areas and are designed with 24/7 transportation in mind.

Simultaneity of stages

Instead of following a linear process through design, tender and so on, new projects can tackle everything simultaneously – briefing with the client, sketching concepts, coordinating services, and speaking to contractors and the supply chain. In the case of the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory, charettes were a highly effective way of bringing these stages together. These short intense design meetings allowed the team to sketch out ideas and implement client feedback in real time, securing important decisions by the end of each session. These meetings included everyone from the team, at every stage of the project, ensuring that decisions were made quickly, and any points raised were succinct.

Digital approaches to collaborative design

It is important for everybody to be working in the same model and collaborative space – backed by daily coordination meetings – to speed up cooperation across the team and supply chain. This can aid future projects’ coordination, prior to construction starting. Digital tools also prove incredibly useful in the construction process. Offsite, modular methods are increasingly popular, especially for the smaller pharmaceutical firms, who seek pre-fitted quality accommodation in well-connected locations. These methods proved highly successful in the case of the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory; preassembled dry components were taken on site and put together quickly. All the laboratories were made of modular panels that were already designed in a 3D model. With daily meetings and comprehensive 3D design, the team could review the model for clashes, query layout and decide on the precedence each design component.


The swift delivery of laboratories and pharmaceutical infrastructure across the UK is not simply an avenue for economic growth, but an investment in the wellbeing of the country and its defences against future health risks. By enhancing speed of delivery, we streamline our approaches to design and construction, helping to deliver what is necessary to scale and on time.

By repurposing and retrofitting former industrial buildings, we can ensure that future projects are delivered quickly, are sustainable and in turn solve issues of supply. Collaboration of course is paramount to enable project success and to successfully drive the country towards its future as a global leader in the Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical sectors.

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