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Ten years and $2.5 billion – that’s what it takes to bring a new drug to market these days, says the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. Time is money, and drug companies are starting to design their labs with speed in mind. As Mitchell Weitz of Bristol-Myers Squibb states in LabDesignNews.com, the goal is to “break the physical and logical barriers to getting work done.”

Technology is part of the picture, of course. At Johnson & Johnson, employees are provided with an array of supportive technology, from laptop docking stations and virtual collaboration rooms to walk-up tech-support kiosks. Employees are encouraged to choose workspaces that suit them and the work they are doing. And because employees are empowered to define their work areas, formerly-distributed teams can now collaborate in the same physical space, and quick face-to-face decision-making can speed the work along.

Giving individuals and teams this kind of autonomy and mobility means lab spaces must be able to turn on a dime, changing form and function as quickly as the teams using them make decisions. Solid walls and built-in casework take time to remove, and even more time and expense to re-build, and designers are turning to modular casework to speed up the reconfiguration of labs. These “building blocks” of cabinetry can be assembled in an almost infinite variety of combinations. Wall units can be repurposed as work benches; fixed work benches can transform into mobile workstations; large runs of cabinetry can be divided and re-used in a number of small rooms. And not only does modular casework save time, it saves the cost of re-building casework from scratch.

Agility-driven design choices of this type can be seen everywhere in the new pharma labs. Designers have calculated walk times from one building to another, analyzed the speed of new-technology adoption, and included such holistic elements as stairways and lounges to encourage serendipitous exercise and face time. As labs get faster, and incremental time savings add up to cost savings, the benefit of speed is readily apparent: new remedies, produced efficiently and profitably, and delivered affordably to improve everyone’s health.

 

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