On the back of the pandemic, life sciences are riding high. The speed at which vaccines have been developed and supply chains built has shown the potential and agility of this sector. Last year the UK’s biotech industries attracted £4.5bn in funding – a rise of £1.7bn on the 2020 figure, with Venture Capital companies, who historically were nervous of the risks involved, now investing at record levels.
These investors are being attracted by the dynamism of life sciences companies and their willingness to develop in new and promising ways. It was great to visit one of the UK’s lifescience ‘hotspots’ at the recent UKSPA conference in Oxford, where I was one of the speakers discussing regional and national trends. We learned that the traditional life sciences sector is changing; developing at pace, with 67% of life sciences companies already collaborating with tech software partnerships or expect to be doing so in the near future.
At Discovery Park, where I am Chief Business Officer, we are already working on a tech partnership that will bring together the burgeoning biotech community at our site in Kent with the growing tech cluster at St Pancras. The new high speed train line opening close to the Park later this year will mean that Discovery Park is less than an hour from St Pancras and The Crick Institute, the Digital Catapult and the London based tech giants developing capabilities in healthcare and digital health – with a real opportunity to build meaningful collaborations and partnerships.
I have worked with three life science parks in Scotland and before the switch to home working, it would have been hard to imagine taking on a role that involved regular commuting between the south coast of England and Edinburgh, but technology has made it possible and collaboration is the key to building opportunity. I have always enjoyed the UKSPA meetings, not least as a great way of visiting other science parks and understanding what they have to offer. It’s fascinating to see the different strengths and ‘personalities’ of each park built out of the tenant base located there. But I’ve also valued the strength of community, the opportunity to meet with others who are willing to share their expertise and experiences in running a science or technology park.
A prevailing theme of the UKSPA conference in Oxford was the need for Science and Technology Parks to give serious consideration to the evolution of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). Speakers highlighted some of the critical issues, showcasing innovative solutions to help meet sustainability targets. We heard how several Science Parks are fostering change by involving their tenant communities in a range of initiatives to assist the overall carbon footprint of the science park.
It’s something that we’re looking to expand at Discovery Park. Our site is already powered by a Biomass plant and we’ve implemented many energy saving initiatives. Our 220 acre site was developed for medicine manufacturing and we have aspirations to create a manufacturing village on site. As a rural and coastal park we’re looking to build on the strength of our location to build an Industrial Biotech Community focussed on cleaner, greener manufacturing methods, the development of hydrogen technology (and green energy) and a focus on sustainable and alternative food sources. We’ve recently joined the Industrial Biotech Innovation Centre, based in Scotland to learn from their community and create connectivity across the Uk for partners developing technologies in these areas. But we’re also looking to bring our tenants and staff together to implement other initiatives to meet the climate crisis.
The role of the science park is that of a ‘dating agent’, creating serendipity to bring together like minded companies and individuals to learn from each other how to turn great ideas into great businesses. Splitting my time between the South East and Scotland, I’m keen to make connections between my tenant companies in Kent and my network ‘North of the Border’, to form collaborations that can catalyse a start-up with a brilliant discovery to a proposition that can attract serious investment. I’m happy to help Scottish companies that want to raise their ambitions and look beyond geographical boundaries to find partners.
The pandemic has brought the life sciences sector to greater prominence. Until very recently London-based venture capital companies traditionally invested on their doorstep, but virtual meeting software means that all companies are effectively equidistant from investors. This presents businesses in other areas of the country with a new opportunity to compete for larger chunks of funding on an equal footing with London, Europe, and America if they have all the pillars in place that give them sufficient credibility.
Author: Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer, Discovery Park,