New Life in Life Sciences


When more than a thousand people, including nearly 100 foreign delegates from such distant places as Sweden, China and Japan, descended on Seattle in March for the 11th annual Life Science Innovation Northwest conference, they created an important milestone for the region’s biotech sector.

“This shows the growing interest in our biomedical industry,” says Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, who notes that attendance at the conference was up 50 percent from 2010.

The life sciences industry in Washington is already the fifth-highest provider of employment in the state, responsible for 22,000 direct jobs and 55,000 indirect jobs in 2009, according to the Washington Research Council. Rivera says the industry contributes $10.5 billion to the state economy. Exports reached $1.2 billion last year.

Strong research institutions such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington are keys to this success. So are a rising entrepreneurial spirit and a continuing record of achievement: Seattle Genetics raised $178 million in February, while Dendreon’s new cancer treatment is seen as being among the nation’s most exciting new developments.

Nevertheless, Rivera says the biggest obstacle to growth is access to capital. Biotech venture capital investments nationally have declined by more than 10 percent a year between 2007 and 2010, according to Bloomberg. Some help could be on the way in the form of Wings, a nonprofit angel group focusing on investments in biomedical devices. WBBA also offers pro bono assistance for startups in the life sciences industry; Rivera says it nurtured 50 startups last year that are now viable entities.


How Vacuum Systems Will Change the Landscape for Health Care Facilities

How Vacuum Systems Will Change the Landscape for Health Care Facilities


Sponsored by MacDonald-Miller

The Polyclinic Northgate wanted to do something that had never been done before — create a medical clinic that could be rearranged in a weekend, located in virtually any building, and most importantly, a place that would not cost a lot to change in the future. How could there be a flexible system with the constraints that sewer lines currently impose on existing facilities? The Polyclinic turned to its mechanical contractor, MacDonald-Miller, to come up with a solution.

We interviewed Steve Amann, project executive, to find out how vacuum plumbing systems will revolutionize the healthcare industry.  

What is the vacuum system solution?

Vacuum plumbing is a modular drainage system, which allows for immediate and future room reconfigurations. Rather than the standard protocol of requiring slab penetrations to accommodate gravity drainage, vacuum piping serving waste fixtures is installed in overhead spaces, delivering wastewater to a central vacuum center that exits the building at a single, convenient location. 

How will this flexible system change the healthcare industry?

The vacuum system is the first ever application of its kind in a medical clinic utilizing demountable, movable interior walls. Now medical clinic spaces can be remodeled at a fraction of the time and cost formerly required given standard plumbing and fixed walls. This efficiency provides new opportunities for business while maximizing revenue. Now, health care teams can drive project decisions, rather than decisions being made by the constraints of an existing space layout, or lack of plumbing infrastructure.

How will it change the landscape for healthcare facilities?

Medical clinics can now be located in nontraditional locations, such as standard office buildings with lower lease rates than designated-use medical office buildings.

What is the environment and financial impact?

The environmental impact of vacuum toilets is substantially less compared to standard low-flush toilets. With only half a gallon per flush, tenants realize big savings on their water and sewer costs. The system also prevents waste pipe leaks, which occur in gravity-driven systems and contribute to a deterioration of a building’s health over time.

With the ever-changing nature of the health care industry and mounting price pressure, the combination of demountable walls and vacuum plumbing creates flexibility and provides long-term economic benefits — two elements which are in high demand within this emerging industry. 

MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions is a full-service, design-build, mechanical contractor in the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about MacDonald-Miller’s recent projects.