Unlocking lab space: Challenges and solutions for life science scale-ups

Cadence Building

Unlocking lab space: Challenges and solutions for life science scale-ups

Navigating the process of finding and securing the ideal workspace as a company enters a growth phase can be both exciting and motivating, but also time-consuming and complex for any business.

For scale-ups looking for specialised research and development space within an established life science and technology hub, the task is amplified by the ongoing supply and demand imbalance in key clusters across the UK.

According to JLL, as of March 2024, 1.7m sq ft of lab space was being sought by life-science companies in the Golden Triangle, of which 42% was focused on the Cambridge market, so there’s a lot of competition for limited new stock coming to the market in the near term.

High-specification, well-located science space can feel like an impossible find where success is often down to luck and timing. It’s challenging enough to accurately forecast business growth and even more so to predict your real estate requirements in the coming year or two.

In what should be an energising next stage for these innovative companies, founders are instead grappling with the scarcity of lab space, low specificity of lab spaces, and compromises in location.


Purpose-built Cambridge solutions

Cambridge’s continued position as a world-leading centre of innovation relies on having the real estate to house our home-grown talent along with a supportive community in which they can scale and thrive.

In South Cambridge, the emergence of three brand new purpose-built science buildings at Unity Campus has provided a ray of optimism, with more to come in the near future.

This trio of brand-new lab-enabled buildings offer state-of-the-art facilities which are addressing the pressing need for high-quality lab space in a well-connected location within a supportive campus environment.

With its dedication to providing cutting-edge facilities and nurturing a collaborative environment for innovation, the campus stands poised to welcome the newest occupiers to this fast-growing life science and technology location.

By providing life science founders with access to high-spec laboratories, shared spaces, and tailored facilities, the campus is addressing the lack of lab space while helping to maintain Cambridge’s draw as a collaborative hub for entrepreneurial scientific and tech endeavours.

In addition to its focus on R&D, Unity Campus prioritises its environmental responsibility, ensuring the energy and environmental performance of the space aligns with today’s companies’ ESG and sustainability requirements.

The 100% electric buildings are designed to minimise energy consumption and carbon emissions, reflecting investor and developer Howard Group’s wider commitment to creating a greener future.


Low availability, rapid uptake

Of the three state-of-the-art buildings developed – Sigma, Orion, and Cadence – only Cadence has any remaining space to let. Interested parties are being encouraged to act quickly.

Domainex – King’s Award for Enterprise winner and the fastest growing drug discovery CRO in Europe – is now fully operational in Sigma; Welbeck Health Partners – pioneering healthcare provider – has signed a 30-year lease to become the sole occupier of Orion; and a ‘yet to be announced’ globally focussed biotech has been the first venture to secure a floor of Cadence.

The ground and second floors – a total of 20,000 sq ft – which remain available in Cadence accommodate a high-quality 60/40 lab-office split with a BREEAM score of ‘Excellent’ and EPC A.

The 10,703 sq ft ground floor is lab-enabled with write-up/office space, and the 10,703 sq ft second floor is being speculatively fitted out by Howard Group alongside the works being carried out to the first floor on behalf of the new occupier (the details of which will be announced in due course).

Domainex COO, David Cronk commented of the decision to locate at Unity Campus: “Domainex first joined Unity Campus in January 2022 on the back of strong uptake of our services by life science organisations globally over the previous two years. After an extensive search, Unity Campus was identified as the best place for us to go – there were other options open to us and rental costs came into consideration, but what drove the decision in the end was the ability to configure the space. It fitted our brief which included being close to our headquarters and chemistry facility at Chesterford Research Park.

“Now, as we continue to scale, we have chosen to expand within the Unity Campus community into Sigma, one of Howard Group’s brand-new science buildings. With our existing Chemistry and Bioanalytical Centre of Excellence at Chesterford Research Park, the combined footprint of Domainex research facilities now exceeds 44,000 sq ft.”

The rapid pace of leasing highlights the significant demand for high-quality, purpose-built laboratory and office spaces in Cambridge, particularly at Unity Campus which is emerging as a leading hub for healthcare innovation in the region.

For companies looking for something smaller on the campus, 7,071 sq ft of fitted laboratory and office/write up space is available now in Iconix 2. The single-storey building is shared with one other lab occupier and has a generic, open plan laboratory layout with air-handling and benching throughout.

Visit to find out more.


A campus committed to keeping pace with demand

Following the exceptional success of Phase 2, plans for Phase 3 of Unity Campus have been submitted. The plans include a commanding 58,000 sq ft science building set across three floors with a stunning central atrium.

Phase 3 will also see the development of a 3,400 sq ft pavilion at the heart of a beautifully landscaped square which will be transformational for the companies already established at Unity Campus.

This glazed green-roofed pavilion, which will feature a fully exposed timber frame, will provide a café and bookable meeting spaces set within a variety of urban garden spaces ranging from shaded and enclosed outside meeting spaces to lawns and wildflower meadows bustling with life.

As Phase 3 of Unity Campus unfolds, promising even more tailored spaces and amenities, Howard Group will continue to create practical and sustainable real estate solutions to ease the journey for today’s science scale-ups and tomorrow’s founders.