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From Site Selection magazine, March 2017

Medicine on Fast Forward

A top-notch design team offers its take on the flexible biopharma facility of the future.

“The greatest advantage in this design is flexibility,” says Edwin Paoli Perez, DesignFlex 2030 Design Team member and Fluor biopharma process expert. “It is like the lungs: it expands and contracts as needed.”
Rendering by Todd Mion courtesy of Fluor

It’s a crucial and perennial question for corporate real estate leaders in the life sciences: “How do we design a facility flexible enough to handle specialized scientific processes and company needs that morph over time, while also being marketable when that inevitable time comes?”

In this adaptation excerpted from the forthcoming white paper, Rx for Change: The Flexible Biopharma Facility of the Future, from the Industrial Asset Management Council (IAMC) and the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR), we get a vision of that future straight from industry experts themselves.

Featuring original design work from professionals at Burns & McDonnell and Fluor, the white paper is part of an ongoing series from the DesignFlex2030 initiative. For more information, visit or

In the not-so-distant future, the biopharmaceutical industry is likely to completely eclipse the current-day pharmaceutical industry in terms of numbers of products and dollar value. This speaks to the need for a more flexible facility, one that can adapt as market conditions change, as technology continues to alter manufacturing processes, and as the ever-flowing pipeline of scientific discovery yields new medicines.

Take note, commercial real estate industry! Today’s approach — building a single-purpose, inflexible plant with permanently installed equipment, taking maximum depreciation early, and moving on when the book value zeroes out — just isn’t going to work tomorrow.

Actually, it’s already not working well. The biggest cost of facility inflexibility is local jobs. It means shuttered facilities, heavy carrying costs, and hard-to-fill-space. It creates environmental hazards and causes blight. It results in wasted human, financial, natural, and cultural resources.

But there is a better way. We know it.

The DesignFlex 2030 Biopharma base case challenge was to design a flexible biologics manufacturing facility that includes cell culture/fermentation, purification and initial filling. The Design Team’s resulting facility of the future incorporates technologies, materials, processes, innovations, and approaches that are emerging now and that are on the horizon:

Modular site design and layout: Expandable and adaptable facility; add, remove, and exchange self-contained functional modules as needed.

360-degree architecture: Attractive exterior from all sides; light-filled facility adds to positive work environment; adapts for other users, i.e. university or semiconductor fabrication; enhances resale value and economic development value.

Integrated facility: Universal manufacturing space for multiple or single products; accommodates latest process technology; co-located R&D, pilot, admin and fill-and-finish enables stronger collaboration, innovation, and breakthrough.

Modular and wall panel clean rooms/manufacturing spaces: Plug and play; slide in and slide out; higher facility throughput due to reduced disruption for cleaning and qualifying; allows Single Use, Large Dose Upstream and Large Dose Downstream to be modified or reconfigured as needed; units can work independently or combined; ability to alter internal spaces with minimal construction disruption; unlimited plant flexibility that allows the most costly part of drug production to be adaptable and reusable.

Modular R&D labs: Designed for full flexibility; use individually or combined to create small pilot operation without disrupting production.

Modular fill-and-finish units: On-site capacity for speed-to-market; templatized design for reproduction anywhere in the world; ship modules to other locations based on global demand.

Raised access flooring: Ultimate load capacity; concrete-filled steel floors; underground utilities corridor; ease of conversion for semiconductor and data center environments.

Solar and wind technologies: Solar pavement panels with “plugless” parking spaces and ground pad systems; high-efficiency peel-and-stick thin-film solar collectors on admin building; dynamic tint adjustment: PV glass on sides of building; wind turbines generate power for large-energy-use equipment.

Green roof: Manages storm water; helps microclimate; binds dust particles; reduces noise; protects roof from UV breakdown.

Leading-edge building materials: Color-changing interior paint IDs spaces by function to reduce risk of cross-contamination, reduces painting and renovation costs; color-changing exterior rain cladding accent tiles improve insulation, provide for more efficient heating and cooling, enable renovations without structural interference, add to re-sale value; smog-eating exterior rain screen tiles; cellular grass pavers (“grasscrete”) on large public paved areas.

Next-gen utilities: Insulated corrugated cardboard ductwork replaces heavy and semi-permanent metal ductwork; predictive HVAC maintenance software; solar-powered HVAC supplemented by natural gas; ice-powered air conditioning to cool large spaces.

Advanced technologies: Biometric security and access control; autonomous cars and personalized transportation; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for shipping and receiving; anti-gravity pallet lift; humanoid robots with charging stations for sack loading reduce contamination risks, workplace injury claims and head count costs.

“We needed a way to upend current thinking without scaring away the industry,” says Fluor life sciences architect Todd Mion about the modular, plug-and-play approach. “We wanted to design a facility that could accommodate variable scale, variable purification, continuous and batch processing, and PAT [process analytical technologies]. We needed utilities that can be routed anywhere. And we needed to accommodate future innovation.” 

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