UK Life Sciences Boom - by Paul Rainford
Good times for UK Life Science
Surging energy prices, a cost-of-living crisis, looming stagflation and struggling stock markets: 2022’s financial headlines have seemed almost universally negative. Amidst all this gloom, it should not be forgotten that, in the UK, the life science sector is experiencing something of a boom. Figures recently released by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Clarivate reveal that UK Biotech companies raised a record £453million of venture capital funding in the *first quarter of the year- the highest on record and an increase of 35% on the same period in 2021.
2021 itself was a record-breaking year with UK life science companies securing a total of £4.5billion of investment. Not all life sciences hubs internationally enjoyed the same fundraising surge seen in the UK. Venture investments increased 79% in the UK, ahead of Boston Massachusetts (up 49%), San Francisco (down 21%) and San Diego. Investment across the rest of Europe fell 12%, reaching a total of just over £5billion. China also saw a 12% fall to £3.4billion.
The Government has a “Vision” for the sector, with levelling up at the core
So, the country is rapidly consolidating its position as one of the key global hotspots for life sciences and recognition of this by the current government last year saw publication of their ‘UK Life Sciences Vision’ report in July. Developing on the 2017 government ‘Life Sciences Industrial Strategy’, the report aims to map out a 10-year strategy for the sector. Inspired by the unprecedented nature of public and private sector collaboration seen during the COVID pandemic (and resulting in the vaccine from Oxford University and Astra Zeneca) it seeks to apply a similar approach to seven great healthcare challenges: Cancer, Dementia, Mental Health, Obesity, Ageing, Respiratory Disease and Vaccines.
The government’s levelling up agenda is a key part of this vision, not just because the healthcare challenges identified will have a “disproportionately positive impact on people living in poorer areas of the UK where the prevalence of long-term conditions and cancer is highest”, but because of the potential to create skilled, well-paid jobs right across the country. A crucial focus must therefore now be to ensure that the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, does not start to overly dominate the sector. The growth in life science company start-ups (during 2016-2020 period compared to previous period) across the UK was 24%, but the number of life science start-ups in London, the South East and East of England increased by 43% as opposed to being relatively flat across the rest of the UK.
Lab Space availability and a Northern Life Science ‘Supercluster’
There are many factors influencing rates of life science company formation, but the availability of modern laboratory space is becoming increasingly important. There is a record shortage of laboratory space in the UK currently and, unsurprisingly, the situation is particularly acute in the South East. A recent report into the business space market in Cambridge found that “supply of laboratory space around Cambridge is effectively zero, with no new space currently under construction” and nothing likely to be available until 2024.
Building plentiful lab space, strategically located and catering for the demands of the modern industry, can be a hugely important way of enhancing the competitiveness of the North in attracting life science businesses. A new development, Project Ultraviolet, is already underway at Sci-Tech Daresbury campus in Liverpool City Region which will provide for 180,000 sq ft of Grade A office and laboratory space. An opportunity now exists to drive meaningful ‘levelling up’ by further expanding suitable modern lab space in the North and capitalising on the current buoyancy in the life science sector. Combined with other recommendations envisaged in the last year’s Northern Health Science Alliance / NP11 group report, we may really start to see a ‘Northern Life Science Supercluster’ that can rival the Golden Triangle.
*BIA reports covers the period from 1 December 2021 to 28 February 2022
Sources/References and Links
UK Biotech Financing Report, published by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Clarivate, Dec’21-Feb’22
UK Biotech Financing Report, published by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Clarivate, 2021
UK Life Sciences Vision, Gov.uk
UK Life Science Start-Up Report, WAPG & JLL
Annual Review of the Business Space Market in Cambridge, Cheffins/Datapoint
A Northern Life Sciences Supercluster: The Economic Potential of a Systemwide Approach September 2021