Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst’s new Spark Building opened its doors to accommodate the rapid growth of scale-up businesses within Hertfordshire’s world-class cell and gene cluster.

The Spark Building was built to accommodate the companies scaling up to create a new wave of advanced cell and gene therapy treatments with the potential to cure cancer and other life-threatening diseases. A £1.2m Local Growth Fund investment from Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has financed 50% of the 10,000 sq. ft. building, enabling the cell and gene cluster to continue to grow at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC).

SBC is a world-leading science park of global significance, at the centre of the largest cluster of cell and gene therapy companies in Europe. It is home to over 45 high-profile businesses and has delivered more than 1,000 jobs in the region. Its facilities have safely remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling resident businesses to continue with their important work.

Since its opening in 2012, occupiers of the SBC campus have raised over £1.6bn of investment, around 65% of which has been invested into cell and gene therapy companies.

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth, Chief Executive Officer at SBC, commented: “The Spark Building ensures that we maintain our position as Europe’s leading hub for cell and gene therapy and underlines the importance to the UK of capabilities here in Stevenage. The building has been full since it opened in January and provides accommodation for 100 new employees. I would like to thank Hertfordshire LEP for its investment, reflecting the local economic impact that expansion and job creation offers.”

Paul Witcombe, Head of Enterprise and Innovation, Hertfordshire LEP, said:  “Our £1.2m investment has helped provide the immediate accommodation needed to support the continued expansion of the burgeoning cell and gene therapy cluster in Stevenage, to further strengthen Hertfordshire’s vibrant life sciences ecosystem and ultimately provide high quality jobs for our local people.”

Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, Luke Hall MP said:“The Government has invested £1.2m from the Local Growth Fund to open the new Spark Building which accommodates companies finding advanced treatments for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. I am pleased that this important work is underway providing jobs for local people and strengthening Hertfordshire as a leading hub for cell and gene therapy.”

The Spark Building, co-located alongside the SBC Incubator and Accelerator Buildings, and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre, has supported the scale up of outstanding cell and gene therapy companies such as Achilles Therapeutics, Autolus, Freeline and TCR2 Therapeutics.

“Achilles is leading the next wave of immuno-oncology drug development,” said Dr Iraj Ali, CEO of Achilles Therapeutics. “We have moved from concept to clinic-ready in less than three years and being based on the SBC campus has given us the flexibility to grow our manufacturing capabilities and progress at such a rapid pace.”

In parallel to the Spark Building, and supported by a further £2.92m Local Growth Fund investment from Hertfordshire LEP, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre is also undergoing expansion, to allow it to support twelve companies to develop their manufacturing at scale, up from the current five.

The co-location of SBC and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult in Stevenage has allowed resident companies to benefit from close proximity to a full supply chain, from research and development to manufacturing. This has been a key driver of business growth.

“That Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst is continuing to expand its world-class cell and gene therapy capabilities with the opening of the SBC Spark Building is great for our business,” said Garry Menzel, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of TCR2 Therapeutics. “The foresight and ongoing commitment of the Government to tap into the huge potential of the local talent pool has made the Campus an ideal location for us as we can partner locally with the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult for our manufacturing needs as we expand our presence in the UK.”

The investment in the Spark Building brings the total public sector funding allocated to one single postcode in support of world-class science to nearly £100m. This includes UK Government support provided through the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult (£55m), Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (£12m), Innovate UK grant funding (£15m) and Hertfordshire LEP funding (£4.1m), which helped to unlock further European Regional Development Funding (£3.6m). This combined pool of public sector funding has already helped leverage £1bn of private sector investment into the companies on campus.