Will this new facility make London a life science powerhouse?

Canary Wharf

Kadans Science Partner and Canary Wharf Group (CWG), London, are developing an innovation facility providing access to fully fitted laboratories and space for developing life science companies, following the announcement of a joint venture to establish a new UK Life Sciences cluster at Canary Wharf. DDW’s Megan Thomas caught up with James Sheppard from Kadans to learn more about the significance of this development.

Why London?

This is a particularly large expansion. Why is this so necessary in London? Is the market getting bigger or has it, until this point, been lacking sufficient space? Sheppard thinks that the market is definitely getting bigger, and that this is driven predominantly by the increase in activity and technology transfer by a lot of the universities in London. Increasingly, he has noticed an emphasis on not doing science for science’s sake, but for creating impact. “Impact’, he said, “is a word that gets used a lot in lots of different contexts, but a very visible way of demonstrating impact is the creation of a business and the creation of a company. We’re certainly seeing a lot more of that activity and London is beginning to hone in on a few different specialisms, cell and gene therapy being a big part of London’s future. London is growing significantly and there hasn’t been enough of the specialist development on the real estate front to create the spaces required for these businesses.”

Sheppard clarifies that he is predominantly talking about R&D space rather than manufacturing or GMP pilot plant type space. He says that the Innovation Centre at 20 Water Street, Canary Wharf, which is coming online in Q2 2023, aims to address this historic shortfall. He said: “With London’s continued growth and positivity, it remains an international destination with the ability to attract global businesses.”

He highlights that major companies such as GSK choosing Central London as their headquarters is a big ‘tick in the box’, especially when combined with MSD and Novartis. “It remains a global destination, which means you’re needing to provide space that is both suitable for global businesses and large enough. That’s where London has really struggled a lot. London is a very old city and has historic planning regulations, meaning it’s quite difficult to build big buildings. Then you factor in the nuances and challenges of laboratories, be that design, operations or logistics, and it means that it’s actually quite difficult to build sizable lab space in London.”

This leads to Kadans’ North Quay project at Canary Wharf, an 823,000 square foot vertical life sciences campus. Sheppard said: “That’s really there to address the long-term opportunity that London has and how we’re going be able to create suitable space at the right time. That building is the first part of a three and a half million square feet campus master plan.” This is the sort of scale, Sheppard says, that you only really see in the US and China, and so this development is going to allow the UK to compete on a global scale and support the UK government’s aim to become a Science Superpower.’

On clusters

So, why are clusters such as this important to innovation? Sheppard points out that there have been lots of historic studies on proximity and how that positively influences and creates innovation. But he thinks there are two ways of looking at proximity. “I think there’s the immediate kind – within the same building within a minute or two’s walk. Then there’s proximity on a citywide level. This is where London, really needs to come together a bit more and not create micro clusters across the city, but actually start to think of London as a single destination, where you’ve got multiple world-class universities, multiple world-class research institutes, and now global pharma and a big increase in biotechs.” Sheppard thinks that if London starts to think of itself as a cluster in itself, it has the opportunity to compete on a global scale.

Zooming in on micro proximity – of being in the same building – Sheppard thinks there are a couple of different ways of looking at this. He said: “One is just being around like-minded people and being in an environment where it just feels creative and innovative. That’s driven a lot by the culture that comes to the building, but also the ecosystem that’s developed and bringing the right people to the right events, the right activities. Curating them and making sure that there’s a well-developed programme that sits across the whole area. I think the other point is that life science is, generally speaking, inherently risky and those risks are at every turn. So actually, job security in life sciences is not guaranteed. People want to know that they’re in a situation and an environment where, if one company goes bust or fails, whatever it might be, there are other opportunities nearby. In a big vertical campus, there are going to be multiple companies doing multiple things.”

The facilities

Sheppard shares the selling points of the Kadans’ Innovation Centre so that this decision can be made by companies who can turn their science into business. The first space is targeted at micro businesses – five to 10 employees – that are R&D, biology led businesses. He said: “There is limited supply in London. Everything that’s there is 100% occupied and has been for many years.”

In terms of the new 823,000 sq ft building being developed in collaboration with Canary Wharf Group, this is where Kadans start to differentiate itself and Sheppard says it is ‘technologically a very superior building’. He points out that companies will be able to put laboratories on the twenty second storey and hit the same performance in terms of vibration, in terms of air and in terms of electrical load. Critically, everything on that storey is exactly the same as on the first, which is not the case with all buildings. He said: “Scientists often get pigeonholed in the bottom of the building, or even worse in the basement. You’ll be able to do science at the top of the building.”

The building is designed with baked in flexibility, so you can move labs around. You could put laboratories up to 80% of any one floor, 60% of the entire building. That flexibility allows companies to expand and contract quickly.

The third point is around the type of space. He said: “So, across the building we have these three special floors. These are areas where you can have increased heights in your space. These special floors will allow you to put in pilot plant manufacturing, clean rooms, and it allows you to do some GMP work. We could even house vivariums if we wanted to. At the same time, it’s just at suitable housing a quantum computing company or a robotics business.”

So, the vertical campus feel will mean that scientists will have a flexibility of both scale of business, but also type of business that sits within there. Sheppard draws comparisons to somewhere like Oxford Science Park. He says: “There are multiple different typologies of business at different stages of development and that’s really what we’re trying to do, but in a single building.”

International investment and the impact of Brexit

Sheppard is certain that this facility will attract international investment. While he can’t go into too much detail, companies are looking at taking space, three of which have no presence at all in the UK at the moment.

Sheppard also sheds light on the relationship with Europe and whether Brexit will influence the dynamic. Working for a Dutch company, he is well equipped to answer this question. He said: “From a personal perspective, I’d be lying if it [Brexit] wouldn’t have a negative impact, and you’ve seen that across multiple different facets. I think we hope that we can find some positive route forward, including around visas for scientists and researchers, where there have been some positive improvements. I think so far, scientists and researchers have found innovative and creative ways to just keep going in a suboptimal environment.”

If you look back into the UK’s history, Sheppard points out that one thing that he always comes back to is the wealth of great universities across the country – many of them hundreds of years old. He said: “They’ve been through things a lot worse than Brexit and come out the other side and survived. That’s the kind of positivity I hold on to. These great institutions have powered Britain in multiple different directions for many, many years. If we really begin to harness their creativity and their invention, we can come through the other side. But that requires a government to be supportive of innovation and demonstrate more action around science superpower, rhetoric”

Moving forward

Sheppard finishes by sharing how excited Kadans is about what the future holds and welcome feedback and discussions from people who are working in the industry. He said: “When we’ve designed this building, along with every other Kadans building, we’ve always spoken to tenants around what’s missing from the ecosystem and how we can provide an infrastructure solution to a lot of their challenges. That’s where I think this building is uniquely placed to catapult London to a point where it can be competitive. I think one of the other elements that we often get drawn into is around the leveling up agenda in the UK, we’re investors in Glasgow, we’re looking at projects in Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol, in addition to everything we have planned in London.”

He continued: “We’re not investing in London because we don’t want to invest anywhere else. No. We’re investing in it because it’s a great market. There are great people doing great science here, specifically around drug discovery and drug development. There is still a lot of work to happen on commercialisation, but the building blocks are there, all the way through to investment banks, looking at IPOs, etc. I think the UK has all the building blocks. We just need a single point of contact now to bring it all together and create what is going to power the UK economy for the next 50 years, hopefully.”


James Sheppard is Managing Director for the UK & Ireland at Kadans Science Partner, where he is responsible for growing the UK platform. Sheppard joined Kadans from Cushman & Wakefield where he was Head of Life Sciences. Sheppard brings significant life science experience to Kadans, having worked on some of Europe’s largest and most advanced centres for scientific innovation such as The Francis Crick Institute and Imperial College’s White City Campus. 

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