Life Sciences as the new disruptor in GTA real estate

Senior Vice President, Colliers Canada
Sponsored by Colliers
Colliers Life Sciences

(Image courtesy: Unsplash, Stock Photography)

Ask The Expert: Matthew Johnson

Q. What is the Life Sciences practice group?

A. Our Life Sciences Practice Group consists of approximately 70 real estate advisors across North America who bring specialized expertise in the Life Sciences sector, from technical requirements to the latest trends and innovations. I lead our Canadian practice, which services Life Sciences organizations, from start-ups to well-established, publicly-traded companies across all major cities in the country.

We focus on being partners to our clients first – the real estate is an outcome of the strategic consulting we do well in advance of securing them the right space.

Q. What differentiates Life Sciences facilities from general CRE spaces?

A. There are many specific, technical requirements that are unique to a Life Sciences premises and that can cost 3-4 times more than general office space. High ceilings, ventilation requirements, electrical systems, and plumbing are all technical factors that reduce the number of potential spaces within an already limited inventory of spaces.

Within the Toronto region, we are experiencing what is effectively a zero percent vacancy rate of wet lab inventory. There is a significant gap between supply and demand, which causes upward pressure on asking rental rates. This gap is also causing companies to compromise on their requirements, or potentially look at locations in established Life Sciences markets south of the border.

Q. How have technological advancements impacted the Life Sciences sector and its requirements for real estate?

A. Life Sciences companies require sophisticated properties and sophisticated owners who understand the complex needs of Life Sciences occupiers. We are involved with companies that operate within Artificial Intelligence, medical device development and manufacturing, and medical research – all with highly technical needs.

We have heard far too many stories of Life Sciences organizations not taking a specialized approach to their property search, only to leave their tours frustrated. We pride ourselves on understanding the intricacies of our clients’ work to ensure that all real estate options support their current and future needs. Simply put, the Life Sciences market and the real estate market are two very different things.

Q. Why is Toronto ideal for the Life Sciences sector?

A. Toronto is one of North America’s fastest-growing Life Science community. According to Toronto Global, there are more than 11,000 researchers and technicians working at 37 research institutes, 9 teaching hospitals and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. The underlying foundation for success is here.

Toronto and its surrounding area are naturally establishing their own Life Sciences neighbourhoods. Consider the Meadowvale area, otherwise known as ‘Pill Hill,’ where significant laboratory, manufacturing, and warehousing operations of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies are located. Then focus upon the Discovery District in downtown Toronto where important research is being conducted at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, where many innovative firms within MaRS are starting their journey, and where surrounding hospitals are leading in innovative care. There are manufacturing hubs in the east, high-tech up Highway 404, and McMaster Innovation Park to the west that will house an ecosystem of innovative premises in excess of three million square feet. This is a landmark development not just in our region, but within North America.

Q. How does your experience in CRE benefit your clients?

A. Over the course of my 20+ year career at Colliers, I have focused on delivering an elevated level of service by partnering with my clients to solve their business problems through the lens of commercial real estate. My network, my team of specialized advisors, and our access to global opportunities help my clients accelerate their success.

Q. Why choose Colliers for Life Sciences?

A. It’s simple – we are fully committed to our clients’ success. To achieve that, we are on the ground and alongside the Life Sciences community and the developers of Life Sciences properties every day. We liaise with community stakeholders, individuals in government and economic development, while also consulting with leaders of research institutes, universities, and medical institutions. Our expertise is current, accurate and highly relevant. We leverage the Colliers’ global network, proven tools, resources, and experts across our service lines to provide a tailored approach to the needs of the Life Sciences sector.

Our network provides us with access to lab and life science premises that will never become publicly available. While not solving all demand issues, our access to off-market properties has allowed us to deliver success in situations where clients were convinced their growth plans would have to include a market outside of the Toronto region or even Canada.


Colliers is a leading diversified professional services and investment management company.

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Colliers is a leading diversified professional services and investment management company.

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