Canary Wharf makes play to become UK life sciences hub

by Stephen Riddle

The organisation behind the iconic Canary Wharf development has said it plans to build one of the largest commercial laboratory facilities in Europe as part of a drive to make the east London site a hub for the life sciences sector.

Canary Wharf Group has joined forces with science facility developer Kadans on the project, which will kick off with the construction of a 22 storey, 750,000 sq. ft. building dedicated to a combination of wet lab and office space.

The move sets up the return of Canary Wharf as a focal point for the biopharma industry, three years after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) relocated from the site to Amsterdam as a result of Brexit, as it sees a reduction in tenancies from the financial services sector.

According to the partners, building the lab facility is just the first phase in the creation of what they hope will become a thriving location for life sciences companies on a 3.3 hectare site at North Quay in east London, which was recently given planning permission for development.

The building – which will be designed by Kadans – is expected to be open for business in 2026, and according to a Financial Times report is expected to cost around £500 million ($657 million) to construct.

It will provide “a campus under one roof”, according to the developers, with space for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and academics as well as global healthcare and pharmaceutical companies that will serve as “the catalyst for a new world leading life sciences cluster and ecosystem in the UK capital.”

The project has been announced after the UK life sciences sector enjoyed a record year for investment, raising £4.5 billion (around $6 billion) in public and private financings in 2021, which was a rise of around 60% on the previous year.

“We are creating a world class building that will provide state of the art laboratory, office and innovation space for some of the most exciting and fast-growing businesses in the health and life sciences sector,” said Shobi Khan, chief executive of Canary Wharf Group.

He highlighted the site’s transport links – it is right next to a new station on the new Elizabeth tube line due to open later this year and close to the Jubilee line and DLR – as well as availability of homes, outdoor spaces and leisure facilities nearby.

“We have developed 2,300 apartments on site with another 2,300 homes currently under construction – we have homes for every income level, which will enable researchers and their colleagues to live close by,” said Khan.

The development marks another attempt to capitalise on the so-called biotech “golden triangle” in the UK, extending from London to Oxford and Cambridge, and consolidate the UK’s position as a leading life sciences in Europe and rival to hubs in Boston and San Francisco in the US.

At the moment, London’s biotech hub is clustered around King’s Cross in North London, in close proximity to many of the capital’s top-tier academic institutions.

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