As the British life sciences sector continues to expand rapidly in 2015, investments into biotech start-ups in the London-Oxford-Cambridge ‘Golden Triangle’ are on the rise. Figures from L&P indicate a 41% increase in venture capital invested into the life sciences sector in 2014.
Currently, UK life sciences research ranks second in the world according to QS World University Rankings. Strong performances by universities in the Golden Triangle correspond with increased venture capital funding. Oxford-based AdaptImmune raised $104m from US investors last year to develop cancer immunotherapeutics, while Cell Medica raised $78m for similar immunological research in London.
Perhaps most impressive is the performance by the Cambridge biotech cluster. L&P numbers show that Cambridge companies alone acquired 29% of total UK venture capital investment in 2014. Regarded as the largest biotech hub outside the US, Cambridge features over 750 life science companies and is the home to many international pharmaceutical giants like AstraZeneca.
London is modelling the success of ‘science parks’ in Cambridge. Last year, London mayor Boris Johnson launched MedCity, an entrepreneurial biotech collaboration between King’s Health Partners, Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, and UCLPartners. Now independent business and technical park owners are also adding to the London biotech cluster. SOG Group recently took over Sanofi’s old site in east London and established londoneast-uk, offering space and state-of-the-art facilities to start-ups.
Strong university technology transfer programs greatly facilitate commercialisation of academic technology. For example, Imperial Innovations works alongside academicians from very early-stage research outcomes all the way through commercialisation. The program has led to successful exited ventures acquired by companies such as Janssen Biotech and Pfizer.
Often university spinouts, British biotech start-ups also benefit from venture capital funds from investors like Epidarex Capital. Focusing on risky investments in early-stage companies, Epidarex seeks technologies with sustainable competitiveness, distinct market niche, and robust intellectual property portfolios. Alternatively, biotech start-ups can raise funds from early-stage business competitions. UCL-spinout Keregen won first place at OneStart Europe 2015 and claimed £100k and free lab space for six months. In its inaugural year, the Hello Tomorrow Challenge offers €175k in total prize money.
While British bioscience research has always been a world leader, commercializing academic research and growing early-stage start-ups has only been accelerating recently. Similar to biotech hubs like Boston, San Francisco, and Singapore, the cluster model and close proximity with universities seems to be particularly successful for biotech start-ups in the UK.
Written by: Alfred Chin, John Hopkins University