The Next Life Sciences Boom: Contract Vivarium Facilities
While cities like Boston and San Francisco continue to dominate the life sciences sector, demand for research and development facilities is growing exponentially across the country.
In 2022, U.S. lab space vacancy rates hit a historic low of 4.9%, with emerging markets such as New York and Raleigh-Durham constructing more than 800K SF and 2.1M SF of office and laboratory space, respectively. More mature markets, however, are on track to maintain their lead, with 62M SF planned for development in Boston, and 18M SF in the Bay Area.
But while life sciences R&D space is expected to increase nationally by at least 20% by 2026, contract vivariums — turnkey animal research facilities — are on track to quadruple in the next five years, according to Mispro Director of Site Development Moses Gutierrez.
“Biotech and biopharma companies are increasingly choosing CVs rather than building their own vivariums,” Moses said. “Life sciences real estate is also partnering with CVs as an amenity to their developments.”
Mispro offers research space and support services to biosciences companies for their preclinical in vivo drug development studies. Founded in 2003 in Montreal, Mispro now has 10 contract vivarium spaces in major biotech hubs across North America. Bisnow spoke with Gutierrez to learn more about the CV model, its specialized requirements and infrastructure needs and how the firm chooses locations for its vivarium spaces.
Bisnow: What is a contract vivarium and how is it different from traditional lab space?
Gutierrez: A contract vivarium is a specialized animal facility that is designed and equipped to allow multiple independent companies to conduct preclinical drug development studies in the same facility with confidentiality and privacy.
A contract vivarium is a specialized animal facility that is designed and equipped to allow multiple independent companies to conduct preclinical drug development studies in the same facility with confidentiality and privacy.
The most significant difference between contract vivarium facilities and wet labs is that lab bench facilities, like what you would see in a biotech incubator, are for in vitro studies, and vivarium labs support in vivo studies, which is research with living organisms. Because of this, CV’s have very specific requirements for equipment, systems and environmental control, as well as require specialized staff and regulatory oversight to ensure a safe and stable environment for research models and scientists.
Bisnow: What are the specialized requirements and infrastructure needs of a contract vivarium?
Gutierrez: There is a very detailed and expansive checklist that we work from for the construction of a Mispro co-working vivarium, and it takes a village of very experienced teams to vet a location, tie into HVAC and electrical systems and build a highly functional and safe environment for biotech research. CVs run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and research models, as well as scientists, must have a consistent, secure environment for research while ensuring animal welfare, which directly contributes to reliable data collection.
We break down requirements for a contract vivarium into two categories: systems and infrastructure. For systems, a vivarium lab facility requires robust and specialized HVAC to support complex airflow requirements to remove any threat of contamination.
Electrical and power requirements are also substantial. They require redundancies such as back-up systems to ensure stable performance of the equipment and environment, including housing racks, light and temperature control and equipment that requires significant power supply, such as autoclaves and freezers.
For infrastructure, there are two sets of requirements to support a research vivarium. One for the building we’re in, and one for the vivarium facility itself. The building requirements would be a loading dock, freight elevator if we’re on a higher floor and minimal vibration from surrounding businesses. Depending on location, we also take into account proximity and ease of use, such as parking, public transportation and even amenities such as restaurants and gyms.
Bisnow: Can you explain more about the vivarium facility infrastructure and requirements needed to support multiple companies under the same roof?
Gutierrez: For a Mispro facility, we have developed a very efficient 5K to 6K SF footprint that includes a number of shared and private rooms for housing and procedure, including private suites, and other specialized rooms needed for in vivo research. Our facilities have high drop ceilings for mechanical, electrical and plumbing as well as wide hallways for moving large equipment. Lab rooms are spacious and ergonomic, and include biosafety cabinets, storage and space for special equipment such as imaging machines. Vivarium lab facilities also require special paint, flooring and safety systems to ensure a sterile and safe environment that is easy to clean and maintain.
For a Mispro facility, we have developed a very efficient 5K to 6K SF footprint that includes a number of shared and private rooms for housing and procedure, including private suites, and other specialized rooms needed for in vivo research.
Bisnow: What are the challenges in choosing locations for a vivarium and how does Mispro manage them when faced with new versus retrofitted development?
Gutierrez: Mispro has developed an approach with vivarium design where we can tie into a lab-ready life sciences building. With our team of architects, engineers and project managers, we’ve developed a spec that is affordable to build and operate without being an encumbrance to our landlord partners. This approach takes into account both new development and existing conversions.
New development is easier because life sciences real estate firms are proactively considering the needs of life sciences research when designing their buildings. This means they are being built with the right HVAC and power minimums to support lab operations. Also, with new development properties, we have more freedom with our floor plan to design the optimum layout for a Mispro vivarium.
With older buildings that are being retrofitted for life sciences, it can be more challenging. When Mispro selects a location for our facilities, it’s foremost based on proximity — will our facility be within minutes, steps or in the same building as our clients. After that, we have a team that assesses the building as a viable option for a vivarium. If the required systems and infrastructure are in place, and if we can retrofit the structure at an affordable cost and within our construction timeline, then we can definitely build in an existing building.
Mispro is currently in all the major U.S. biotech hubs. Since access to a preclinical vivarium is a necessity for the majority of companies pursuing biopharmaceutical drug development, we cautiously, but optimistically, view the inventory surplus and the funding shift to more specialized therapeutics as promising for the contract vivarium model. To serve the demand for the contract vivarium option, we’ll continue to grow our network in new and existing markets, including two additional facilities in Boston in the next year, a second Bay Area location in Palo Alto and a new location for us in Philadelphia.
This article was produced in collaboration between Mispro and Emily Lynch from BisNow.