Lab of the future
Operators and scientists want to make laboratories fit for the future so that they can be used sensibly for years to come. Conversions are expensive and take time - so the new building should be designed to meet the demands of the future right away. A team from F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG has been working on the "lab of the future" for pRED and is now implementing it in Basel.
Dr Geo Adam, Global Head of Research Infrastructure Projects at F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, responsible for global investment projects in the area of research and early development, tells us what thoughts and motivations were discussed in the team about the new building for pRED and beyond.
Drug production is increasingly being outsourced to Asia. To what extent does this have an impact on Europe as a research centre?
Rather little. Often the research and production of medicines is done at different locations. The trend in production is, of course, to produce where the customers are located and, in research, the best place is where the environment is most conducive to innovation. In research, these are Europe and the USA, but Japan and other Asian countries also feature in this context. Roche has just opened a new innovation centre in Shanghai, for example, and a large research centre is being built in Yokohama for our Chugai colleagues.
How attractive are Germany, Austria and Switzerland as research centres for young researchers from all over the world?
I would consider the research conditions per se in the German-speaking region as being just as attractive as in the USA, for instance. The culture and language, so really more environmental factors, represent the biggest challenges for researchers who do not come from the German-speaking region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, the fact that our region is not only attractive, but also extremely innovative as a research location is also evident by the number of patents. Switzerland, for example, has the most patents per capita and can thus be considered the world’s most innovative country.
The pRED Innovation Center is currently being built in Basel. What does the abbreviation „pRED“ stand for and how does Roche organise its global research?
Roche pRED is the abbreviation for “Pharma Research and Early Development” and is one of four groups that conduct research and early development within Roche AG. More than 2,200 scientists are currently working at pRED at a total of seven sites in Europe, North America and Asia. Apart from pRED, Roche AG has two further research organisations involved in drug research: gRED in California and Chugai in Japan. Roche Diagnostics also has its own research department. We advocate “competition” as sometimes being called for to find the best solution to a problem; after all, every team of researchers approaches a problem differently. At the end of the day, the clinical data determines which solution is the best one for patients. A similar approach comes into play when we take over research companies: it does not work trying to integrate these teams into a large research unit! It is better to ensure that researchers can continue to pursue their innovative ideas in the research culture they have built up where they currently work.
You and your colleagues have developed a building concept that is unique worldwide over a planning period of more than five years, with the aim of setting a benchmark. Which aspects were decisive in this?
I don’t know whether we are unique in this, but it is true that we have put a great deal of thought into developing a modern and – as far as possible – future-proof research environment. A building like this is a unique opportunity to question current concepts as to what extent they can keep pace with constantly changing requirements. In this approach, we adhered to three “guiding principles”, which we locked in with our senior management at the very outset:
– a spacious, open and transparent environment defined by the architecture that ideally promotes communication and collaboration. Examples of this include the specific location of the building cores to produce large, contiguous areas within which we can create spacious „laboratory landscapes“ and analysis zones. These areas always also include places where researchers can spontaneously sit down and discuss issues without needing to leave the respective area. A further feature is the fact that the researchers in cross-floor „neighbourhoods“ can work together with their colleagues in Biology, Medicine, Chemistry and Technology, in the same way as they collaborate on projects. And not forgetting the cafeterias, two of which we are planning in the building: they are infinitely important, allowing people to sit down together and talk about God, the world and/or the outcome of their latest experiment. Our colleagues in gRED have a bronze sculpture showing the founders of Genentech, Herbert Boyer and Bob Swanson, sitting discussing things at a table in a cafeteria...
– A modular, flexible expansion that enables smaller and larger changes and conversions to be carried out quickly and cost-effectively. Our project team has developed a very good solution for this, which makes it very easy to move walls quickly and thus modify the laboratories. The concept goes all the way through to the modular installation of the services supply and laboratory furniture, that is as far as the connection to which the researcher needs to attach his equipment. Cooperation with laboratory furniture companies plays an immensely important role in this.
– Laboratory furniture that really inspires our researchers in terms of ergonomics and well-being that they enjoy working in these laboratories. In this context, a discussion we held with the physiotherapists in our Medical Service was very revealing: How can we protect the health of our employees even better in the long term? How can furniture help in the laboratory? We therefore approached the fume hood and biosecurity workbench manufacturers and asked them how we can work together to develop this further. Also in terms of digitalisation, experiment monitoring etc. as well as in terms of ergonomics. Of course, the fume hoods and workbenches need to continue to comply with all regulations, be practical to use and look like it is fun coming to work in the laboratory.
With the help of modern technologies, such as Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR), they involved the subsequent users of the pRED Center at a very early design stage to simulate future work processes, workplace concepts and their equipment. What are the benefits of this approach?
Visualisation at a very early design stage can make design much more tangible, even for non-architects and non-engineers. However, in my opinion, the most important benefit in involving the future users of the laboratories is that they can design the laboratories to work perfectly by simulating the workflows. This massively improves motivation and helps with „change management“, i. e. introducing employees to the new laboratory environment – a benefit that should not be underestimated.
Digitalisation, connectivity and automation also play a major role in laboratories. What do we need to do today to be capable of maximising future potential?
This is a massive issue for us. As mentioned above, laboratories will be huge, and our researchers must be able to input and receive their data easily and securely, either at their workbench or at their desk. Notepads, writing pads or USB sticks that scientists carry around with them need to be a thing of the past in terms of data security, hygiene and simple efficiency. This raw data forms the basis for the big issues of „big data“ analysis and artificial intelligence in the interpretation of the data. Monitoring experiments by camera and/or sensors saves working time and provides for improved traceability. This involves the far-reaching networking of equipment, fume hoods, scales etc. Then we have the whole issue of automation, which also relies on the best possible networking of the individual components and requires open interfaces in often proprietary equipment software. This is where laboratory fit-out companies and equipment manufacturers come into their own. The open and innovative companies will, in our view, have a competitive advantage. At Roche, this is a very important aspect when it comes to selecting our partners.
Sustainability has been one of the major issues of recent years. What role does sustainability play in your laboratories – for instance, in terms of materials, energy, recycling …?
At Roche, this topic is virtually incorporated in the company‘s DNA. After all, Lukas Hoffmann, the grandson of the company‘s founder Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche, was a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). For a very long time, sustainability has been a major priority for us at Roche. It is not just about putting in place environmental measures: economic and social measures are important too. When it comes to environmental sustainability, we think comprehensively, from major issues, such as the energy efficiency of our buildings, to small individual measures. For instance, a few years ago we replaced the aerator on our taps with more economical models, saving a huge volume of fresh water across all buildings. Our current new building will, of course, also meet the most exacting environmental sustainability requirements. Recycled concrete is used, where possible, in the shell construction and the buildings will be extremely energy-efficient. Solar systems for electricity generation will be fitted to the new buildings, where possible. In recognition of our sustainability efforts, Roche has been recognised as the most sustainable company in the pharmaceutical industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) eleven times out of the past twelve years.
How do you regard the role of your partner companies in the initial concept development and design of innovative working environments?
Increasingly this is becoming the crucial point in the selection of partners. We need partners who are willing to play an active role on this journey with us. Partners who want to actively drive forward developments and work with us as innovative sparring partners. The individual requirements can only be achieved through an intensive exchange of ideas throughout the design process. This is enriching for both sides and leads to the optimum solution for researchers and operators alike.
Are there „best practice“ examples that already reflect future requirements?
As I understand it, the laboratory of the future does not yet exist at the moment. At Roche, we are trying to take as many elements as possible into account with our new building in Basel. This requires intensive collaboration between researchers, architects, designers, manufacturers, and software and hardware developers. In my experience, this demands courage, brainpower, advance investment and a lot of goodwill. I am very pleased that we have found open-minded partners in many areas in the current project. I am convinced that we will come close to the “laboratory of the future” with the pRED research building and will provide our researchers with an optimum environment.
About Dr. Geo Adam
Degree in Chemistry at Freiburg and at the ETH Zurich. PhD and research secondment in the USA in the field of natural material synthesis. 20 years working in various fields of drug research, 10 years working in site development and new and converted research buildings.
About the Roche pRED project in Basel:
The new building complex will be built with different heights (18 m, 27 m, 72 m, 114 m). The design of the buildings is thus defined jointly with the research and development organisation perfectly meet the needs the scientists. The buildings will be designed with stateof- the-art technology to accommodate around 950 office workplaces and 800 laboratory workstations. pRED research centre is intended, among other things, to facilitate communication between research staff and strengthen cooperation.