The potential of life sciences to deliver game-changing medicines and technology has never been greater. And with discoveries will come high numbers of jobs and significant economic benefits. That is exciting news in a sector that already employs more than 250,000 people, supports 6,500 businesses, and generates an annual turnover of £94bn. (1)
With increased funding from UK Life Sciences and the Life Science Investment Programme – which has already attracted more than £1 billion – it seems very clear that the speed of progress currently being achieved in life sciences is only set to accelerate.
First though, we need to navigate past the lab shortages that have been preventing companies from scaling, and in some cases, blocking access completely for start-ups unable to find the space they need or to meet the spiraling cost of rent.
Many new lab space projects are underway around the established locations of London, Cambridge and Oxford and in some cases, work is being done to repurpose former office space for the sector. However, it will take several years for many new developments to be ready for occupancy and to truly support sector growth, we need to widen the search.
In fact, significant amounts of much-needed space are available within easy reach of the Capital and all it needs to locate them is a willingness to look beyond the established triangle and recognise that the UK’s life sciences sector is now too large to be contained within a limited location.
You could say that under pressure for space, the triangle is taking on a new dimension and evolving into a more of a diamond shape. The southern point of that diamond is at Discovery Park in Kent, where a new £6m facility, supported through the Government’s ‘Getting Building Fund’ will open this summer. It offers laboratory spaces from 250 sq ft to 3,000 sq ft and helps to alleviate the pressure on the Golden Triangle.
Tenants will include VisusNano, a pre-clinical company developing a drug-eluting intraocular lens implant for use in cataract surgery, and Psyros Diagnostics, pioneers of next-generation, point-of-care testing systems.
Moreover, based on our recognition that young companies need assistance to achieve ‘investor readiness’, Discovery Park is now home to a Barclays Eagle Lab, which is providing start-ups and scale-ups with the business knowledge, mentoring and networking opportunities they need in order to move to the next level. Support includes access to a Demo Directory, which allows aspirational companies to demo their businesses to a select group of hand-picked investors.
Those already benefiting from the new facility include Vitarka Theraputics, which is developing combination medicines using RNAi therapies and a non-viral drug delivery platform and which has plans to improve technical processes for large-scale manufacturing.
Meanwhile Discovery Park’s location in Kent, where the cost of living and housing prices are significantly lower than London, and the transport links are excellent, is proving to be highly attractive.
That journey will get easier still with the opening of the new high-speed train line between London and Thanet this summer, which will cut the journey time to London to just under an hour.
With plans for a Manufacturing Village in development, and 500,000 sq ft of existing lab space readily available across the site, tenants will not have to face relocation once they start to scale or when their discoveries move from prototype to physical development.
It’s time for innovative life sciences companies and investors to start thinking outside the triangle. Expanding beyond the established boundaries to encompass more of the country’s scientific potential provides a valuable extension and unlocks further opportunity for growth and success.
Mayer Schreiber is Chief Executive Officer, Discovery Park