Sean McFaul’s Science of Possibility

Sean McFaul sparks life science innovation with a novel program that literally gives space to new ideas

Courtesy of Vertex

I don’t have the typical background for someone who works in my field; in fact, I’ve been in risk management and insurance for most of my career, which for me really had little to do with real estate and certainly nothing to do directly with being on a lab bench doing chemistry.

When I transitioned into my real estate role at Vertex, I was working on an enterprise business continuity program that provided a bridge to my new team. It explored key functional areas in different divisions within the company, asking basic questions about what they do, how they do it, what it would look like if they couldn’t operate at an affected location, and so forth. It required me to interview subject matter experts to understand more about their roles from our earliest stage of research to our patient services group that offers personalized support to patients who have been prescribed our medicines.

Sean McFaul, Senior Director of Global Real Estate, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Courtesy of Vertex

It was like a mini MBA in pharma or biotech—I learned more in six months than I ever could have in years.

At Vertex, drug development is the ultimate team sport; it’s extraordinarily complex. In 2011, we went through a rapid transformation with the approval of our first real “blockbuster” commercial drug for hepatitis C. That discovery allowed us to grow quickly, which was fantastic, but it also required us to think about how large our real estate footprint was. At this time, we had been in 10 different buildings in Cambridge near Boston.

Eventually, we decided to consolidate the organization and move to an underdeveloped area of Boston known as the Seaport. When we arrived, we were at approximately 60 percent of the 1 million square feet of capacity, and we’ve grown to occupy just over 80 percent today.

This year we’ve begun working to drive a new wave of workplace strategy planning so our environment can be highly reflective of our culture and provide space to match our growth. We’re making sure we’re being innovative with our design and that we can deliver employees the choices to allow them to be their best selves and do their best work while they’re here.

These efforts point to ways we can use space wisely and be a highly productive workforce, but we also wanted to develop something that allowed researchers to come together and create. Cultivating innovation was the major driving force for our incubator program, Hub Lab.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals features swivel chairs and pillows decorated with elements from the periodic table. Courtesy of Vertex

Before the Hub Lab concept could be implemented, a multidisciplinary team of internal and external experts was convened to discuss key matters regarding potential risks and the operational logistics of non-Vertex companies operating in our headquarters. Since we lease the facilities where Hub Lab operates, our landlord needed to understand the program as well. It took about nine months to align all of the stakeholders and develop the operational plans and contractual documents to bring our first tenant in. We’ve learned something with every tenant that has come into our program and continue to work towards perfecting the model to position them for success.

Not only are we pioneers on the scientific side of our business, but also in terms of our corporate vision for how Boston was going to develop and how we could innovate in all aspects of our business and the community. Hub Lab fit perfectly into that vision. We were the first major pharma company to come to this part of Boston, but we certainly don’t want to be the last. Researchers can rent a space in Hub Lab for less than the steep market rate. To bring innovation to the Seaport, we created this program in a way that acts less like a landlord, and more like a ward of the next wave of scientific innovation. The Vertex Hub Lab team is very proud that we not only support our internal science and breakthrough therapies, but also other drug discovery platforms and therapeutic areas that will hopefully provide solutions to unmet medical needs.

Vertex’s $800 million headquarters is situated on the South Boston Waterfront. Courtesy of Vertex

Since we started the incubator program, we’ve seen incredible success from our partners. Our first partner was recognized by a publication that releases an annual list of the top innovative companies or companies that they think will be successful in the future. Now, they’ve moved into a larger space within our building and have grown from a handful of employees to over 30. This diversity of thought that our partners bring to our neighborhood and workplace has also strengthened our culture of collaboration and helps us to spark novel ideas in the Seaport.

Hub Lab is a great example of how all parts of Vertex can help to achieve what we call our “Science of Possibility.” We’ve built an amazing team here and it is awesome to be a part of a group that is developing inventive space options for the future of life science innovation. The team has embodied our core values—“We” Wins, Innovation Is Our Lifeblood, and Fearless Pursuit of Excellence—in building Hub Lab to what it is today. I can’t wait for what comes next.

Shared Brainpower

After transitioning to real estate, Sean McFaul discovered a noticeable gap between himself and the people he had networked with during his time working on enterprise business continuity. He wanted a platform where senior and executive directors could connect and learn from each other to strengthen their leadership development, which inspired the 1213 Knowledge Exchange program.

The 1213 meets monthly to offer mentorship and open dialogues between senior directors. The program connects cross-functional leaders to facilitate better teamwork, innovation, and one of Vertex’s core corporate values: “We” Wins.


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CBRE values our relationship with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and we thank Sean for sharing his talents with our firm. It is our mission to provide the highest quality of professional service to meet the needs of our diverse client base. To learn more about the firm, visit cbre.us.