Building a chemistry lab fit for the future

Case Study | 24th October 2022 | 3 mins read


Established in 1999, Astex Pharmaceuticals is a biotech R&D company, with its research HQ based in Cambridge. They are pioneers of fragment based drug discovery, initially with a focus on oncology targets but now more widely on diseases of the central nervous system.

The laboratories in Cambridge support chemists who are building compounds that may go on form precision medicines, and in 2022, it was decided to transform an existing traditional medical chemistry laboratory into a centre of excellence for this type of research.

This involved creating a lab of two halves, with a flexible space bringing together previously scattered equipment with the aim of investigating automation techniques for chemistry. The rest of the environment is dedicated to efficient traditional chemistry experiments. The overarching objective was to build in as much flexibility as possible, to accommodate different scientific requirements in the future.

As existing suppliers to Astex, TCS were appointed to supply the fume cupboards for this state of the art complex.


Our first job was to decommission and remove the 13 existing fume cupboards from the facility. Some of them were only 18 months old and so we carefully extracted the VAV controllers, and stored them to be reused in the new builds, helping both sustainability and budgetary targets.

TCS Astex fume cupboard

The LEV systems that were going to be used in the new flexible space for automated techniques were designed around the experiments to be conducted such as liquid handling, and incorporated a wealth of services – gas, electricity, data etc.

For further flexibility, we added 3 walk-in fume cupboards to complement 4 bench mounted cupboards and the LEV enclosures. This gives the team the ability to use larger equipment in the cupboards in future.

TCS Astex walk in fume cupboard

Because the architects, scientists and main contractor at Astex were already familiar with the design of TCS fume cupboards, from the position of sashes through to finding gas services where you’d expect to find them, the installation and commissioning of the new lab has been particularly efficient. Scientists are now able to move between fume hoods easily, without needing to spend time learning new methods of working. With high availability, and very few repairs ever needed, the team are confident that the new lab will enable them to work with minimal disruption.

TCS Astex experiment underway
TCS Astex experiment in fume cupboard

Commenting on the project, Facilities Manager Simon Brutnell from Astex said:

“We’ve always found the build quality and specification of fume cupboards from TCS to be very good. Ultimately I ask, do they work? Yes. Do they deliver technically? Yes. Are the scientists happy working with them? Yes.”

TCS Business Development Manager Frank Hackett added:

“We’re proud of our long standing relationship with Astex, supporting the important work they do in the treatment of serious diseases. Building a suite of high spec fume cupboards that is fit for the future, whilst also reusing components, has proved to be a great combination.”

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