Life Sciences on the Rise

North American Report, by Cushman & Wakefield
  • Lab inventory as a percentage of total office inventory

    At the end of 2020, total lab space in these 14 markets totaled 145.4 million sf, up 13.7 percent from the 127.9 sf of space they had in 2015.

    Courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

The global life sciences industry has been on the rise, growing more rapidly than ever over the past decade—well before the pandemic struck. In fact, its trajectory only accelerated throughout 2020 and into early 2021—with demand for its products surging and access to capital continuing to greatly expand in both periods. A record $70 billion of private and public capital (mostly venture capital and initial public offerings) poured into life sciences-related companies in North America in 2020, a 93 percent increase from the previous record of $36 billion received in 2018. And if investment continues at the pace we’ve seen in the first quarter of 2021 (already totaling $32.9 billion), we could see somewhere in the area of $90 billion raised this year alone. With COVID-19 challenging the sector last year like never before, the industry has clearly proven itself, sparking a light that illuminated a better way to work, collaborate, and innovate toward the hope of a vaccinated future. The speed at which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and rolled out is a huge achievement for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and is also a testament to the power of global collaboration. Now that we know what’s achievable in a relatively short amount of time, many will ponder what’s next for the life sciences industry. What else is it capable of doing? With the recent success of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology, many researchers are increasingly seeing expanded possibilities in the technology to fight against infectious diseases, cancer, and more. This acceleration of the life sciences industry comes at a critical time, demonstrating the sector’s value and agility when the stakes have been so high.

All of this capital and research driving growth of the life sciences industry is having a significant impact on commercial real estate in markets across the country where this sector has taken root. Lab, medical office, and manufacturing space is rising rapidly at a time when other types of real estate, such as office and retail, are struggling. In fact, real estate investment trusts (REITs) declined 18.2 percent last year and retail fared even worse, plummeting 21 percent.

Driven by strong demographic and investment trends, healthcare has tended to grow whether the economy is expanding or contracting. Even when the global pandemic caused many office tenants to evaluate their future office requirements in 2020, there was almost no slowdown in the life sciences space. After a very brief pause of transaction activity for lab properties in the second quarter of the year, active deal-making returned in the second half of 2020. For example, two new building leases larger than 150,000 sf were executed in the second half of 2020 in the Raleigh-Durham market alone. While offices closed across the globe, life sciences employees continued to go into the lab—because most can’t do their work from home. With much of the record-setting funding for life sciences ventures already in the pipeline at the onset of COVID-19, proponents believe the pandemic has further cemented the importance of the life sciences sector well into the future.

With so much potential for companies and investors, the first half of this report breaks down the life sciences industry at a high level by exploring where the research is being done, where the capital is flowing, and where the talent can be found. And the second half goes into a more detailed market-by-market comparison.

Key takeaways:

  • The global life sciences industry has been on the rise, growing more rapidly than ever over the past decade, its trajectory only strengthened throughout 2020 and going into 2021.
  • COVID-19 has further cemented the strength of the life sciences industry with mRNA technology opening the door to new possibilities.
  • Life sciences is a good alternative asset category for investors since the sector is appearing to be recession-proof.

By Ken McCarthy, principal economist, Americas Head of Applied Research; Brendan Carroll, senior consultant; Sandy Romero, research manager; and Jamie Tetro, communications manager

This is the Executive Summary of a report published by Cushman & Wakefield. Click here to access the complete report.

Published 8-4-2021