To Build or Not to Build (Vivaria)? Vivarium Space with Explora BioLabs

To Build or Not to Build (Vivaria)? Vivarium Space with Explora BioLabs

Wondering if you should build or rent a vivarium? Get the biggest bang for your operating budget.

Inherent in many biotech business decisions is the question of how best to get a lot of important functions underway quickly, while spending venture capital dollars wisely. Often, this choice is expressed as the “build or buy” decision. Some functions, such as core R&D, leadership, and finance, are best created organically and made into an internal function and core competency. Others, such as IT, parts of human resources, health and safety, payroll, legal, and even vivarium, can be outsourced more easily so you can focus on advancing your drug.

In the early days of biotech, some organizations fell into an “edifice complex” in which they squandered precious capital investment funding on building all their own facilities, including large vivaria. Today, few boards of directors would permit such a diversion of capital on a non-core asset, and would rather propel science forward more efficiently. Investors in biotech are not looking for a real estate play.

Yet, a subset of this “edifice complex” still exists today. Some organizations believe that the only choice they have for a vivarium is to build it as an integral part of internal infrastructure. To be clear, vivarium development costs comprise some of the most expensive square footage in life science real estate, many times reaching $500–$800 per square foot to build. Air handling systems, capital equipment, and waste disposal considerations that are needed for the operation and necessary regulatory approvals all contribute to vivarium costs for build-out and operation. And then there is the consideration of the actual size of the facility—including when and how to expand when research demands it.

Solving those problems is how Explora BioLabs was founded. Dr. Richard Lin, Explora BioLabs’ founder, faced a choice familiar to many scientists when building his own company: to build his own vivarium or to outsource his research across the continent who may or may not understand his goals and that lacked his specific expertise. He chose to build his own, due to a lack of vivarium options at that time. And in the process, Dr. Lin learned a lot about how to assemble the right people with the right expertise to get the job done economically.

Dr. Lin recognized that other scientists and entrepreneurs faced the same problem he had. He founded Explora BioLabs to make vivaria more accessible to researchers. Today, Explora BioLabs operates nearly 2 dozen Vivarium-as-a-Service® facilities throughout San Diego, San Francisco, and Boston biotech hubs. These facilities support the pre-clinical research activities of more than 200 clients and growing. In addition, Explora BioLabs operates turnkey operations for more dozens of clients who have their own vivaria but who have found the professional vivarium management offered by Explora BioLabs’ OnSite management program to be cost and time effective.

Although early-stage biotechs are the obvious beneficiaries of Explora BioLabs’ services, existing companies that have their own vivaria can benefit as well. They may have undersized their vivaria during their buildout, and the existing capacity may not be enough to satisfy their current needs. Expansion may not be possible due to lack of space, capital accessibility, or concerns about the findings of ongoing studies showing the effects of construction vibration and noise on vivaria animals. Even if these factors are allayed, expansion of their vivarium may still be less cost-effective than partnering with Explora BioLabs to provide that extra capacity. And there is still the opposite problem: underutilized facilities, all of which have an expensive price tag. Repurposing the extra space and moving vivarium functions to Explora BioLabs could solve that, as well.

Vivaria are more than just specialized square footage. Personnel skilled in the care of laboratory animals must also be identified, recruited, trained, and retained efficiently and cost-effectively. Regulatory issues can necessitate costly fixes and may engender negative press that no biotech needs. Explora BioLabs can provide AAALAC-compliant space in as little as two weeks in their contract vivarium facilities and can work with clients to manage the client’s existing vivaria to solve compliance issues.

Explora BioLabs operates vivaria more efficiently than its clients can on their own. Part of the reason is simply a matter of scale. Consider a basic suite of operating expenses: animal bedding, cages, and feed. An organization that cares for an aggregate of more than 100 clients is going to have more purchasing power, and in some cases improved lead times on goods, than any of their client organizations alone. That translates into lower vivarium supply costs and faster deployments. Scale also means that the salaries of highly paid professionals (such as veterinarians and facility managers) are more fully absorbed. Larger dedicated facilities can also use more efficient air handling systems, lowering utility costs.

Multiple facilities in close proximity also mean that hands-on labor can be more efficiently utilized. Explora BioLabs technicians work on a rotating schedule. Because Explora BioLabs technicians are not “assigned” to one particular facility, they are able to go where they are needed rather than staff a facility that may be experiencing a period of underutilization. For example, if one facility in San Diego is not operating at capacity, personnel can be productively employed elsewhere in the organization in a manner not possible with a standalone vivarium. This reduces full-time equivalent (FTE) hours significantly, reducing vivarium staff costs. It also means that appropriate coverage is provided in the event an employee calls out sick.

Explora BioLabs uses Innovive’s single-use disposable cages, to eliminate the need for cage washing and related maintenance and simplify vivarium processes, lower vivarium costs and utility consumption, and improve employee health—benefits that are ultimately passed on to Explora BioLabs’ clients.

Contract vivaria operate best in environments in which there is a large unmet need. That volume makes the proposition feasible for both the company and its clients. A growing number of clients are able to base their expansion plans on the increasing availability of Explora BioLabs facilities in biotech-rich communities. The benefits of staying in Explora’s vivarium network are twofold: reliable and consistent service, and the lower administrative burden that comes with dealing with a single service provider, ultimately expediting timelines and scientific milestones.

Explora BioLabs provides a network of AAALAC-accredited vivarium facilities and preclinical research services. Our Vivarium-as-a-Service® and CRO solutions offer clients the ability to initiate in vivo studies in as little as two weeks with proper husbandry management and crucial regulatory oversight. For more information about how Explora BioLabs can benefit your research studies, contact us today.

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