Transform the UK's scientific ‘superpower’ status from an ambitious title into a reality

Scaling up – how space is the key ingredient to superpower status

Much has been made of the government's plan to cement the UK as a Scientific Superpower, but beyond a title, what does this really entail? In short, it means opening the cheque book and making the UK more attractive to international talent and investment. This will enable the UK to build up its infrastructure and skill set – both of which are crucial for growing the industry. The physical, real estate, and various scientific infrastructure that sits alongside it, coupled with the workforce that occupies these buildings and whose skillset help drive the industry forward is what will ultimately transform this ‘superpower’ status from an ambitious title into a reality.

Building up a critical mass of scientific clusters in the UK is the crucial first step to this plan. Whether looking at small, individual companies on their journey of growth or examining the UK Life Sciences as a whole, space is essential – without the room to grow the industry cannot expand at the rate it needs to. There is now a seemingly insurmountable demand for specialist real estate to accommodate the increasing number of companies coming out of the incubator stage and looking to scale up, but we also need to find a way to attract more mature companies to the UK.

Key new developments at the heart of London are critical to add to the ‘supercluster’ of Cambridge, Oxford and London, and are integral to addressing this demand; they offer the unique ability for companies to scale up in a city meaning they can offer connectivity like never before. Connections to the likes of City Airport and the Elizabeth Line means connections to talent, universities and collaborative partners – all of which are essential ingredients to giving the UK a seat at the ‘superpower’ table.

Fostering expansion: The journey of growth

From incubator to full scale Pharma, the needs of a company change constantly throughout its life cycle. Being in the right place at the right time and having space and flexibility are essential for growing a company. Whether they’re looking for new funding or wanting to expand following a capital injection, the space a company occupies is a key factor in its success. If the UK is to compete in the big leagues it needs scale, not just in out-of-town bespoke locations but where the action is happening. There is currently a lack of purpose-built life science buildings in these key locations and companies are having to compete with the office market to find space. More investment needs to be put behind building up a life sciences cluster in the UK to retain talent and attract international investment. Projects like Canary Wharf are a great example of this, giving the UK that ability to scale up.

Strategic Situating: How location drives success

When thinking about growing this life sciences cluster ease of access needs to be at front of mind. Growing the Life Sciences sector means scaling up development in the UK’s hub. The importance of improved connectivity cannot be underestimated in attracting talent and investment. No matter the size of the company – from big pharma down to start up, the life blood of the industry is in having access to the best talent, academic research, VC funds and like-minded companies with whom they can collaborate. Without talent, money and space, innovation will simply grind to a halt.

When it comes to attracting new talent, companies must be able to offer the best possible location, taking an increasingly urban approach. Typically, graduates making up a third of the industry’s workforce are aged 25- 35. Many in that age bracket don’t drive and come from universities in dynamic settings; they don't want to work in a business park in the middle of nowhere. So, the innovative companies that are wanting to grow, and grow quickly need to be in accessible, engaging locations to attract this engine room of their business.

From Blueprint to Breakthroughs: The Role of Design in Fostering Scientific Advancements

Once the location is taken care of, we need to think about design. This means both an infrastructure that meets the needs of rapidly growing companies and using state-of-the-art design to make it an attractive place to work. It is also possible to inspire innovation by designing spaces that stimulate connections and encourage knowledge-sharing within a building. The clinical white setting typically associated with science is a thing of the past. We should be designing buildings that talented individuals want to work in and encouraging collaboration through communal spaces. If the pandemic has taught us anything it's that collaboration lies at the heart of progress, and the imperative of sharing data and ideas remains crucial in driving discoveries forward.

It is clear that if the UK government really wants to make a ‘superpower’ status more than just a PR slogan we need a commitment to investing in the nation's infrastructure, attracting international talent, and fostering an environment conducive to growth. By developing scientific clusters and creating purpose-built life science buildings in key locations, the UK can provide the necessary space for companies to thrive and scale up. 

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