5 Questions with Jose Jimenez, Vice President and Director of Life Sciences at Gilbane Building Company

“5 Questions With…” is a recurring BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Jose Jimenez, Vice President and Director of Life Sciences at Gilbane’s Mid-Atlantic division, based in the Philadelphia, PA office.

In this role, Jose supports Gilbane’s life sciences clients across the Greater Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Washington, DC metro areas with speed to patient goals, and a focus on safely delivering quality facilities. His 22 years in the construction industry include directing major capital programs involving new building construction, building additions, and renovations of active cGMP manufacturing and research facilities ranging between $5 million and over $250 million per project. Jose’s experience also includes medical device manufacturing and healthcare facilities. A trusted leader in the life sciences market, Jose has spoken on topics such as “Building Cleanrooms at Warp Speed” for the American Pharmaceutical Review and “Rapid Cleanroom Builds for COVID-19 Facilities: Lessons Learned” for Pharma’s Almanac.

Jose is a member of both the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) Delaware Valley chapter and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) Mid-Atlantic chapter. Jose earned a Master of Science in civil engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as well as a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. He is fluent in both Spanish and English.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

After receiving my Master of Science in civil engineering and construction management over 22 years ago, I joined the construction industry and haven’t looked back. My career started in estimating and project controls, coming up the ranks to project executive and business unit leader. As a construction manager, I’ve directed project teams on major capital plans including new construction, building additions, and renovations within occupied cGMP facilities. More recently, and prior to joining Gilbane, I worked for a specialty contractor that manufactures modular clean rooms and provides design-build services for pharmaceutical, medical device, and healthcare clients. In this role, I was responsible for the company’s project portfolio and construction operations across the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

During my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with high-performing teams constructing, almost exclusively, life science projects including research labs and production spaces. My involvement has covered all stages of the project development process including preconstruction services during the early stages of design, procurement, implementation, start-up, and turnover. I’ve worked with different delivery methods including cost plus fee, design-build, construction manager at-risk, lump sum, and integrated project delivery, as well as a variety of facilities such as API bulk chemical, oral solid dosage, topical, parenteral and biologics, and cell and gene therapies. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve been involved in Operation WARP Speed projects that expanded manufacturing capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

2) Tell us a bit more about Gilbane, the services that it provides, and your current role at the company.

Gilbane Building Company was founded in 1870 (over 150 years ago) as a small carpentry shop in Providence, RI, by two brothers, forward-thinking investors and entrepreneurs. Since then, the company has flourished to become a sixth-generation family-owned business with over 3,000 employees and is consistently ranked among the top 10 builders in the nation. We have a domestic and international presence with more than 45 office locations around the world.

Gilbane provides a full slate of construction and facilities-related services – from preconstruction planning and integrated consulting capabilities to comprehensive construction management, general contracting, design-build, and facility management services. We partner with innovative clients and service many markets such as civic and cultural, commercial, federal, healthcare, higher education, K-12, industrial, manufacturing, mission-critical, sports and entertainment, transportation, and life sciences, among others. Gilbane’s life sciences practice started more than five decades ago and today is ranked among the nation’s top five.

I had the privilege of joining Gilbane this past March as Vice President and Director of Life Sciences for our Mid-Atlantic division. In this role, I support our project teams across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington, DC. I love that every day is different and brings a new challenge. Some days I’m working with clients during design development to create accurate budget and schedule forecasts. Other days I’m working with our project teams to ensure they’re up to date on the latest quality and safety protocols. It has already been very rewarding to work in a very diverse and innovative organization. These attributes equip us to adapt easily to a variety of client cultures and project goals.

3) What trends are shaping the life sciences market and what do you think are the most important things that your life sciences clients are looking for?

The biopharmaceutical industry is an ever-evolving business that is continuously seeking the discovery of new medicines and treatments. There’s an unprecedented increase in demand for manufacturing and research spaces, along with record funding for these projects.

From a funding perspective, CAR T-cell therapy approvals and advancements in the development of advanced therapeutic medicinal products and cell and gene therapies are attracting record funding from government and public sources, as well as venture capitalists. According to Cushman & Wakefield’s 2022 Q1 Life Sciences Update (North American Report), during 2021 the life sciences industry experienced record funding from private equity and NIH in the amount of $78 billion, a year-over-year growth of 11%. In addition, drug approvals have also experienced a significant rise. Over the last twenty years, the U.S. FDA approved an average of 20 drugs each year. This number has experienced an increase of 250% over the last three years. 

In terms of recent industry trends that affect our service offering, we observe greater focus on:

  • Need for increased production capacity – Advancements and proven efficacy of biologics continue to drive demand for additional manufacturing capacity and research spaces. We’re more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and the development of new COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutic products continues to be a focus. The pandemic has created some significant supply chain challenges, which has increased attention on reshoring to overcome these challenges.
  • Maximizing collaboration and modularization for a faster project delivery – The increased demand for manufacturing and research spaces, speed to market expectations, and limited workforce have also increased the need for greater adoption of integrated design and construction models, as well as modular solutions and prefabricated assemblies like super skids and PODs.
  • Higher commitment to environmental sustainability – Simultaneously, as the industry is booming, it is also committed to reducing its carbon footprint. This trend isn’t specific to the life sciences market. Gilbane recently released our Blueprint for Impact which outlines our commitment to affecting positive environmental change and raising environmental awareness. Through reducing the consumption of raw materials, water, and fuels, Gilbane aims to minimize impacts on natural resources. We are also committed to reducing the discharge of pollutants to water, land, and air by using recyclable and renewable materials in place of virgin products. We focus heavily on identifying and implementing greenhouse gas emission reduction opportunities throughout our projects. We seek out and work with suppliers who are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint through conservation of resources, practicing waste minimization techniques, and maximizing local sourcing.
  • Enhanced productivity and digitalization – We’re also seeing a focus on process intensification and digitalization. New products and technological improvements are evolving the biopharmaceutical industry’s research and manufacturing process. The rise of cell and gene therapies drives up the need for low-volume manufacturing facilities. From a capacity planning perspective, this places greater focus on maximizing productivity in smaller footprints. The adoption of single-use technologies and continuous manufacturing are enabling productivity increases. Additionally, the integration of artificial intelligence, digitalization approaches, and analytical tools will enhance operational efficiency.

Regarding client expectations, and from the perspective of a construction services provider, speed to market (or, as I prefer to say, speed to patient), budget certainty, and flexibility are among the most important project performance goals that life sciences clients are looking for in the implementation of new construction or renovation programs for labs and production facilities.

Speed to market is essential, whether on R&D lab projects or commercial manufacturing expansions. Lean initiatives that reduce design and construction time become essential to support this goal. Delivery methods such as integrated project delivery, design-build, or construction manager at-risk are best positioned to support the complex, fast-track construction demands. Direct purchasing of key equipment and materials is a priority to mitigate the impact of lead times. Maximizing off-site prefabrication of specific building systems is another key strategy to generate speed while improving construction safety and quality.

Early engagement of the construction partner – even at the time of site selection studies or start of design – sets the table for accurate budget and schedule forecasts. An integrated and collaborative approach during design development, along with real-time schedule, cost, constructability and logistics reviews, effectively supports the goal of target value design (design-to-budget). This approach eliminates the element of untimely and disruptive surprises and provides greater budget certainty.

As these types of facilities are ever-evolving to respond to new products and technology, flexibility for expansion is also essential. Pre-planning for future expansion should be considered whenever possible to minimize disruption once a new facility goes into operation. Consideration of “gray spaces” for future production trains; locating tie-in points that will allow mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection (MEP/FP) utilities expansion, and reserving space for additional MEP/FP equipment, among others, should be evaluated as design of the new facility develops. 

4) What got you into the biopharma sector and what keeps you here?

My first exposure to the biopharma sector occurred right out of college. My first job was with a mechanical/electrical/plumbing and rigging contractor that serviced the cement, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industry. The company provided self-performed services in all the above-mentioned trades and had recently expanded their offering to include carpentry. At the time, their cement and petrochemical groups provided mainly in-house maintenance and small capital project support, while their pharmaceutical group was providing construction services on major expansion programs.

I was immediately intrigued by the complexity and highly regulated nature of the work. I also quickly recognized a highly organized project development and delivery process from our pharmaceutical clients. The thoroughness of the design documents, logistic plans, schedules, safety programs, and quality plans set a higher standard for planning. The project execution plans were well thought out and set teams for success. I also enjoyed the relational or “partnering” approach in the execution of projects between trade partners, design consultants, and owners. More importantly, these projects had a greater purpose. We were essentially immersed in the process of creating solutions that sought to improve people’s quality of life.

Over the years, these qualities continue to differentiate this market sector. As mentioned earlier, the industry is developing new drugs with much greater efficacy in treating diseases for which limited treatments existed 20 years ago. There is tremendous opportunity to continue contributing to the building of new discoveries and increased capacity needs. This is what keeps us going.

5) If you could have any superpower for only 24 hours, which would you choose and why?

This is not a simple question to answer as we face many global challenges today but if I had to choose one superpower, I would go for the power of healing.

I am not quite convinced that 24 hours would be enough time to make as big an impact as I’d like. However, I’d use this power to heal the minds and wounds of those creating war or suffering the consequences of war, end the COVID-19 threat, heal pain, cure all mental illnesses and fatal diseases, and slow down aging.