Jon Silversides, head of Carter Jonas’ Oxford commercial agency, went to find out what matters to the growing life sciences sector at a major conference in London. Here’s what he took away.

Ok, so it’s not all about the breakout spaces and toilets but returning from the recent Life Sciences Conference  at Stanhope’s White City Campus, I was reflecting on comments made by some of the occupier panellists.

Whilst we already know much about the sector, the discussion provided a timely reminder. As advisors, we need to ensure that the stock being developed meets occupier needs.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in my market of Oxford, where an unprecedented level of investment into the sector over the past two years has brought us to the brink of a significant phase of development.

Our landlord and developer clients are striving to get their approach and specifications right within a rapidly evolving market.

So what were the key takeaways?


This was a recurring theme – how to attract, retain and nurture a business’s most important asset, its staff.

The life science sector operates in a global marketplace. Whilst the lure of Oxford, the regional ecosystem, its universities and world-leading technologies will help, the simple factors of housing, its affordability and getting to and from work are key challenges.

In Oxford, one of the most simple and much talked about solutions remains the introduction of the Cowley branch line. This line would connect the city’s southern science parks with the city centre and university and then the more affordable housing to the south and north of Oxford; we are told momentum is gathering on this.

Thereafter the ‘war for talent’ is increasingly intense. Top talent cherry-picks employers and job opportunities and the working environment plays a role in this decision making. Whilst a building needs to be designed for the science, it still needs to be a great place to work in terms of temperature, break out and amenity spaces.

As a side note, the conference highlighted the ongoing challenges marrying up the aspirations of net-zero commitments with the reality of operational needs, a topic that I see running for some time to come.


This topic is particularly pertinent to Oxford where the level of spin-out activity has exploded over recent years and where these nascent companies ideally want a flexible landlord approach, both in terms of saleable accommodation and tenure.

In Oxford at present flexible terms are generally only offered by a few of the larger landlords, who have the scale to do so. However, as we look ahead to the next 36 months or more, landlord rhetoric towards the schemes coming forward is starting to change.

I anticipate a mix of offerings being delivered, including turnkey, fitted and managed solutions, which can only be a good thing in a market starved of lab stock. Oxford Science Enterprises and Lothbury Property’s recent proposals for a 30,000 sq ft high-specification laboratory and office space for early-stage life science businesses, in the heart of Oxford city centre as part of plans for the redevelopment of the Clarendon Centre, is a step in this direction.


As above, we are working within a rapidly evolving market, and to a certain extent, the property industry is having to play catch up. In the Oxford market, historically, there has been no constant volume of science-specific stock delivered, with the majority of lab requirements retrofitted into office designed buildings.

We are now seeing a range of solutions from hybrid industrial style offerings to lab-enabled and then fully fitted solutions coming through, with the negotiation process becoming more analytical and specification-based as a consequence. In short, we need, more than ever, to know our sector.


Yes, toilets! Claudia Mercedes Mayer of Autolus in Stevenage shared a simple example about her clinical staff.

To paraphrase Claudia, she said her staff work six and a half hour shifts wearing what feels like a plastic bag (single use Tyvek-style suits), which take 20 minutes to ‘de-and-then-re-gown’, so the positioning of toilets and break out areas is vital!

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