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Jun 1, 2012 (Vol. 32, No. 11)

U.K. Biopharma Bouncing Back

Advantages Include 30 Leading Universities and Womb-to-Tomb Electronic Health Records

  • 2012 is looking like a better year for the U.K.’s biopharm sector. Recently, a pharma heavyweight entered the ring and is banking on the region’s biomanufacturing abilities.

    GlaxoSmithKline recently announced an investment of over £500 million in U.K. biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Since the money is going to be spent in the U.K. rather than Asia, building a new site in Ulverston, Cumbria and making an additional investment in GSK manufacturing in Scotland, many in this sector did a double take and asked why.

    One reason is that the commercial climate for biopharm has shifted, with the U.K. government implementing its “patent box”, which includes a lower rate (10%) of corporation tax for profits arising from U.K.-owned IP. Additionally, the U.K. government’s £180 million Biomedical Catalyst fund launched in April, which targets the funding gap known as the “valley of death”, is another boost for the sector.

    However, there are other reasons for setting up shop in the U.K. “GSK is a world-leading company, looking to access well-trained scientists and some of the best science in the world,” Rhona Allison, senior director, life and chemical sciences at Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic development agency, explains. “In Scotland for example, if you compare academic citations to GDP, Scotland comes out as the world’s number one research center, so there is a distinct business benefit to being in the U.K.

    “GSK announced it was going to set up 10 strategic partnerships globally,” Allison continues. “The U.K. has secured the first four, three in Scotland and one in London. This demonstrates our competitive strengths.”

    Nigel Gaymond, a veteran of the global life science industry, adds, “The U.K. accounts for 30 of the world’s 200 leading universities, according to QS rankings, yet it is geographically the size of New England. This is therefore an unparalleled super cluster of scientific research."

  • The Golden Triangle

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    New laboratories at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst

    The U.K. has a number of biotech centers in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. This is known as the Golden Triangle because geographically these centers are arranged in a triangle with both Oxford and Cambridge just 60 miles north of London.

    “The U.K. is geographically quite small, and many people don’t realize that all three Golden Triangle clusters will easily fit into the MassBio cluster,” comments Glyn Edwards, interim CEO of U.K. bioscience trade organization the BioIndustry Association. “However, despite the U.K.’s small size, we have many good companies with world-leading technologies.”

    London is traditionally a financial center but does have a number of leading universities, which are biotech powerhouses. Additionally, in 2015 a major new biomedical research site, the Francis Crick Institute, will be opening its doors to 1,500 scientists.

    There are also a number of biotech incubator centers that allow bioscience research to be commercialized. These include the London BioScience Innovation Centre, QMB (Queen Mary Bioenterprises) Innovation Centre, and the Imperial Incubator.

    “Nobody thinks of London as a global biotech hub, yet some of the world’s top universities are here doing great work in areas such as oncology, neuroscience, and regenerative medicine,” says Tony Jones, Ph.D., director of business development at the biotech networking organization One Nucleus.

    “We don’t have vast science parks but we do have three incubators. I believe in the next decade, London is very much going to be where the innovation is started, since coming up with the clever ideas is what we’re good at in the U.K. When the companies want to grow, they’ll move out along the major routes toward the BioPark at Welwyn or the BioScience Catalyst at Stevenage and also to Cambridge, so it will create a corridor of innovation similar to the IT corridor that arose in the U.K. in the seventies.”

    For the U.K. to remain competitive, according to Dr. Jones, it must produce innovations that can be incorporated as part of the global value chain in creating new therapeutics. Successful biotech companies in London that illustrate this approach are PolyTherics and Stabilitech.

    PolyTherics licenses its glycopolymer-conjugation technologies to enable partners to develop improved biopharmaceuticals through PK/PD optimization, antibody drug conjugates, and bi-specific products, as well as targeted drug delivery. Stabilitech has a thermal stabilization technology that enables vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, and potentially cell therapies to be stored at a range of temperatures.

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