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Project Profile: Genmab

Biotech company opens new location in New Jersey

MaryBeth DiDonna

MaryBeth DiDonna is managing editor, events for Lab Manager. She organizes and moderates the webinars and virtual conferences for Lab Manager as well as other LMG brands, enabling industry...

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Genmab was looking for a U.S. location that would support workforce growth and enable them to work towards their goal of making their antibody therapeutics available for people affected by cancer. The company set up shop in Plainsboro, NJ.
Connie Zhou for Gensler

Lab Manager spoke to Tami Pegos, Design Director, and Erik Lustgarten, Firmwide Global Sciences Practice Area Leader, both with Gensler, about their work on Genmab’s facility in Plainsboro, NJ.

Q: What was the need for this facility? Is it replacing an outdated existing facility or accommodating new research/ a new program?

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A: Genmab, a global biotech company, is experiencing rapid growth—and was looking for a U.S. location that would support workforce growth and enable them to work towards their goal of making their antibody therapeutics available for people affected by cancer. Previously, they sat in Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs, a sciences coworking and incubator space tailored to scientists and like-minded researchers and increasingly needed a new workplace where they could establish an on-site research lab for robust R&D to accommodate their growth trajectory and increasing presence in the U.S. While they originally selected 90,000 square feet across two floors, their growth during the course of the project underscored the need for an additional floor for their growing workforce across various job functions in the U.S. The new location also allows Genmab to stay within New Jersey’s life sciences ecosystem and provided a new suite of on-campus amenities to attract talent from the region’s highly-skilled workforce.

Q: Is there anything particularly unique or groundbreaking about your facility or the design plan?

A: During our visioning sessions, Genmab emphasized, “we are fundamentally a science-driven organization; there is no separation between scientists and others”—that truly informed our design. Genmab challenged us with creating a sense of transparency and connectivity between the lab and workplace. Laboratory scientists have long been working in back-of-house areas, often windowless spaces that lack a sense of energy and connection with other functions. The design team aimed to innovate on the traditional lab and was guided by three key objectives: 

1. Integrate creative spaces—open and closed—to collaborate around data. For example, the labs are designed to allow them to pull up a digital display, and review data without breaking safety or cautionary procedures. Genmab specifically has technology installed in its labs to collaborate with researchers from Utrecht to Princeton. 

 2. Showcase the labs and allow employees to see patient-centric research happening. Filled with natural light from the window wall, Genmab’s labs put science on display through its glass fronts and create a shared sense of purpose for employees. It also advances Genmab’s mission to prioritize bench science as an important function by creating bench and desk adjacency. 

 3. Create informal hubs for interaction and to build a community around innovation. The facility was designed to offer informal space for innovation that is safe and functional. This collaboration area builds on their teamwork-focused culture, allowing them to work together toward their goal of improving the lives of people with cancer and get them excited about their jobs. The office is set up with workplace on one side and labs and conference rooms on the other. Strategically, this forces employees to navigate through the social space and lab areas to get to meeting rooms enabling scientists and non-lab employees remain connected and share a sense of collaboration.

The existing office building was repositioned to support labs, research and development, commercialization, and operations functions.
Connie Zhou for Gensler

Q: What sorts of challenges have you encountered during the design/build process, and how did you overcome them?

A: Because Genmab selected an existing office building as their new location versus a dedicated life sciences space, they needed to reposition the facility into one that supports labs, research and development, commercialization, and operations functions. The site’s standard HVAC systems, typical workplace ceilings, unusually low floor loading, and other limitations presented several challenges for the design and engineering team (Vanderweil Engineers). Together, we addressed these through various interventions, including:

  • We designed a prefabricated penthouse for the roof that contained new mechanical systems to provide proper air exchanges and temperature control for the lab.  The prefabricated penthouse was oversized to also fit lab utilities systems (compressed air and lab vacuum) to maximize usable floor area and provide easy access for the maintenance engineers. 
  • Supplemental HVAC systems were installed in the lab space to work within the parameters of the existing low floor-to-floor (13-foot) and to accommodate extra cooling demands.  The system was designed for expansion of additional lab space if needed. 
  • Because this was a repositioning from an office to a research building, it did not have service elevators. We had to plan for separation of lab materials and waste flow from normal passenger traffic and designate an elevator for lab materials.
  • The team upgraded the structural capacity to meet the needs of lab equipment and building systems.
  • We led coordination with local planning to approve exterior modifications, including a gas generator on the roof.  
  • The existing site was all electric, but the available power to the building was exceeded by lab power demands so the heating systems were converted to gas. This required the installation of a new gas line. 

Q: If a similar facility or program were to look at your lab for inspiration, what do you think they will take away as an example of what they should also implement in their own lab?

A: Our goal was to create a sense of warmth, welcoming and wellness in Genmab’s U.S. location, taking inspiration from Genmab’s Danish roots. The space bucks the trend of a “sterile” lab presence while still adhering to precise requirements for the design of lab space. The office features warm-toned, natural materials, biophilia throughout and evokes conviviality through aptly-named informal gathering areas like the “Fika bar” and “Hygge.”  

Often an afterthought, we curated a seamless visual continuity between the lab and workplace, two traditionally separate spaces. Our team used similar finishes, furniture and equipment to create a seamless visual connection across the lab and office space. For example, the warm oak finishes and detailing of the lab casework matches the workplace furniture, and the polished concrete flooring and accent colors were a common theme, carried from the main nucleus of the building, the “Hygge” into the lab. Floor-to-ceiling glass partitions and doors in both the workplace and lab provide transparency and access to natural light, which is consistent with Genmab’s global R&D center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Recently, this location also received Gold LEED certification for its sustainable design features.