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Mar 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 6)

Fledgling Firms Needed to Fill U.K. Void

Industry Success Requires that New Businesses Be Started to Replace Those Bought by Pharma

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    The Technology Strategy Board provided funding for the development of The Automation Partnership’s Sonata, which was designed to automate the cell culture of mammalian or insect cells growing in suspension in shake flasks.

    England’s Greater South East (an area including both Brighton and London) is the biggest health technology cluster in the world, according to David Parry, Ph.D., CEO of the South East Health Technologies Alliance. It is home to 4,700 biotech, diagnostic, medical device, and pharma companies, generating £100 billion ($142.6 billion) in revenues annually, and can also boast four of the top ten universities in the world, Dr. Parry said at a recent bioProcessUK meeting.

    Other pronouncements at the meeting included that of bioProcessUK director Tony Bradshaw, Ph.D., who said that he expected the upcoming “review and refresh” of the Bioscience 2015 report to be even more supportive of bioprocessing. 

    Malcolm Rhodes, Ph.D., technical director at bioProcessUK, reflected on significant developments like the purchase of CAT and MedImmune by AstraZeneca. He also noted that the U.K. biological medicines pipeline is steady, and capability for Phase III has increased; however, other countries such as Germany and Denmark are also rapidly increasing their pipeline. Bottom line, the U.K. needs to start new businesses to replace those that are being bought by pharma. “We cannot afford to be complacent,” he added.

    Mark Bustard, Ph.D., technical manager at bioProcessUK, highlighted the importance of knowledge transfer partnerships and the collaborative R&D program of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB, a business-led public body promoting technology and innovation for U.K. business that funds bioProcessUK). bioProcessUK assisted the TSB in assigning £10 million ($14.25 million) in funding for cell therapy projects in 2008; the next call is for highvalue manufacturing projects, which are an excellent fit for bioprocessing.

    Rosemary Drake, Ph.D., CSO of The Automation Partnership (TAP), explained how the company had benefited from TSB Collaborative R&D funding to develop the Sonata—a shake-flask approach for bioprocess optimization. “It has become increasingly difficult to develop complex solutions using conventional funding approaches,” she said. “The development of a cell culture system can cost millions and take several years. VCs rarely invest in capital equipment and, although a consortium approach is valuable, it is hard to align more than three companies. For Sonata, TSB supplied about £440,000 ($674,064), matched by £1million ($1.4 million) from TAP.

    “This has been important for our strategic development,” Dr. Drake added. TAP has partnered in two more TSB projects—one with Intercytex on autologous cells for regenerative medicine and another with UCL on rapid automated fabrication of tissue for corneal stem cell therapy.

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