Life Sciences

Open Innovation: Redefining the future lab

By In partnership with

Dr Kath Mackay, Director of Life Sciences, Bruntwood SciTech – Alderley Park explores why the time is now for science and what this means for the future of the lab. 

The past year has proven to be a catalyst for global business change and never has the life sciences sector been more in the spotlight. From testing and drug discovery to the roll out of the vaccine, collaboration and open innovation have been vital in accelerating scientific progress and will be central to the future of the laboratory.

A sector in the spotlight

According to European Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2021 from the Urban Land Institute and PwC, life sciences is the third most likely sector to see investment grow this year. Alongside Covid-19, drivers such as public health and new breakthroughs in areas such as genomic medicine, cell and gene therapy and technology continue to dominate market demand.

The past 12 months have seen a focus on stringent levels of cleanliness; the introduction of thermal cameras, and remote, touch-free access controls all become the norm in lab design.  But as the way many in the industry are approaching R&D continues to evolve, with big pharma increasingly outsourcing and the emergence of more and more smaller and scaling companies – we are frequently asking ourselves how is the format of the lab changing?

Co-location and co-innovation

First, there is an imperative need to understand the user. Larger companies want to be in the mix of new research from start-ups, while SMEs desire access to partners, potential customers and co-innovators. This is a huge step change from the days of big pharma in their isolated laboratories.

With more emphasis on clustering – bringing together entrepreneurs, academia and clinicians, it’s less about thinking about the lab as a silo, but thinking about the lab as one, vital, ingredient to succeed.

The need for physical collaboration, breakout and wellbeing spaces has never been more crucial and whilst this is not a new concept for the office market, this is something that we aim to build on in the science sector. We’re creating the full package: high-spec ready-to-go laboratories and office space, with access to modern and inspiring breakout, meeting and event spaces all designed to encourage and facilitate collaboration.

With a greater focus on AI and digitization to analyze and predict research outcomes, there’s also a new need to integrate companies and people with digital and tech skills and services. At Alderley Park, we’ve developed Glasshouse, a 150,000 sq ft tech hub to encourage the exchange of ideas and people between tech and life science. It’s this coexistence that will accelerate the science of tomorrow.

Lab life made easy

Science can be expensive and the equipment and technology within the lab is continuously getting smarter and smaller, and is often expensive. For smaller businesses, supporting them to access capital-intensive equipment on a pay-as-you-go basis gives them the kickstart they need. Alongside our coworking, in vivo and NMR labs, we’ve partnered with Cytiva and Waters to create Open Access Laboratories where companies can access leading scientific equipment without the cost risk.

We provide a whole range of shared science services, allowing many smaller businesses to focus on the science. We provide everything from lab coat laundry to media prep, glass wash and waste management, while they scale and grow.

So what’s new?

The fundamental format of the wet laboratory has remained fairly consistent over the past 10-15 years. The future is in the tech and how the industry is working and coexisting alongside new disruptive technologies. We’re already working with customers on automation systems, space planning for robotics and enhancing HVAC and ventilation systems to allow for the enhanced heat produced from new technologies.

Over the next 25+ years, we’re likely to see this tech become further embedded in a scientist’s daily life – think of controlling experiments through automated technology from your home office – reducing the need for antisocial working hours and improving both productivity and work life balance.

By appreciating the needs of our customers, supporting them in the planning process and providing them with access to services and collaborative spaces, they have the opportunity to excel. Who knows what scientific discovery could come next?

Meet Dr Kath Mackay of Bruntwood SciTech

Dr Kath Mackay is Director of Life Sciences for Bruntwood SciTech, a leading UK’s property provider dedicated to driving the growth of the UK science and technology sector, where she is responsible for developing the life science vision and strategy for Bruntwood SciTech, external affairs, and developing sector-specific innovation services and investment support for the life sciences business across Bruntwood Scitech’s network of campuses. Shealso oversees Alderley Park ( the UK’s largest single- site life science campus), the new £310 million Birmingham Health Innovation Campus, and Citylabs in Manchester, the world-leading health innovation and precision medicine campus in partnership with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Mackay joined Bruntwood SciTech from the executive board of Innovate UK where she led the team responsible for growing and scaling businesses working in the biomedical, health, agriculture and food sectors, creating and delivering a £700 million portfolio of infrastructure, Catapults, grant and loan investments. She is also Non-Executive Director of the Northern Health Science Alliance, the North of England’s health partnership, UKRI’s National Biofilms Innovation Centre, and Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.