Cambridge Cluster a global magnet for investors, innovators and collaborators

Looking back over 2021 and what it meant for the Life Sciences industry it would be impossible not to feel, as was the case across all sectors, that it was shaped by having to adapt to cope with and battle Covid-19. 

Business practice changes for all in terms of dealmaking, workplace operations and everyone’s daily life were essential. Against that backdrop, to see such successes has been remarkable, writes Tony Jones, CEO of One Nucleus, the Life Science Membership Organisation. 

The industry attracted record levels of attention and investment in 2021. Whilst $7.3 billion was invested globally in just June-August 2021, led by the US at $4.37bn (cf Clarivate & BIA), the UK continued to lead in Europe at $429 million with this region at the forefront through the successes of companies such as Artios (£110m). 

AstraZeneca is predicted to generate the biggest new sales in 2022 estimated at $7bn. The excellence in translational research in our region is magnetic to others. 

It’s not just the direct bio-venture investment that powers the growth here. The region’s ability to attract scientific talent, the growing pool of experienced innovative leaders, strong networks and global connectivity mean the entire ecosystem attracts a meaningful portion of revenue flows from within the industry, irrespective of where the headline equity investments are made.

There has been impressive growth of R & D partners such as Domainex, Abzena and PhoreMost who are leveraging their proprietary platforms to attract deals whilst developing their own asset pipelines. 

A longstanding strength of the region has been its scientific and technology diversity. It continues to hold its own impressively compared to other global hubs in the US, Europe and Asia. 

The BioMedTech cluster capitalises increasingly on the success of our near neighbours in Oxford, London, Silverstone, Stevenage and Norwich for example. 

I am hesitant to speak of a ‘supercluster’, but in global terms the proximity and growing connectedness of recognised centres of excellence in areas including cell & gene therapy, microbiome research and digital health bodes well for 2022 and beyond. 

The importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in the discovery and development of innovative medicines and health technologies has never been more vital. 

It is clear that the future of Life Sciences will rely on cross-cutting disciplines such as data science, electronic engineering and advanced manufacturing. 

Looking back to the early days of the biotechnology industry – Cambridge being one of the first clusters in Europe – such integrated R & D and healthcare delivery would probably only have been a vision in the minds of a few, rather than accepted leading edge practice. This region has remained a leader throughout.

This growth in requirement for interdisciplinary approaches to uncovering solutions to improve patient lives brings continued opportunity for the industry and in particular this region when looking ahead. 

The opportunity in fields such as Artificial Intelligence in Biomedicine is being harnessed by companies such as BenevolentAI, Eagle Genomics and Healx – all attracting investment and growth whilst exemplifying very different business models and approaches.

BenevolentAI, which has developed an AI-based drug development platform along with wet lab facilities, entered into a high-profile SPAC merger in December 2021, quoting a post money valuation of up to $1.7bn. 

Furthermore, a collaboration with local giant AstraZeneca is amplifying BevevolentAI’s potential global impact. No doubt, the recently opened £1bn AstraZeneca Discovery Centre (DSIC) on The Cambridge Biomedical Campus will be fully engaged in the collaboration. 

The opening perhaps could not have been better timed as a beacon of future medicine discovery as the nation, and hopefully the world, slowly emerges from the pandemic. 

Eagle Genomics, which is looking to become a form of marketplace to bring microbiome data and scientists together, has recently announced a key collaboration within the region with the Earlham Institute

Catapulted by a $56m funding round a little over a year ago, Healx is blazing a trail in the rare disease space combining AI and bioscience research to discover novel connections between drugs and diseases, often leading to repurposing of a known and tested medicine.

These are exemplars in just one aspect of the opportunity to illustrate how the region is extremely well placed to remain at the forefront of combatting disease and addressing unmet medical needs globally. I could name many more such as RxCelerate, Autolus, PetMedix and others spanning other disciplines. 

That future opportunity suggests there is no compelling reason we would anticipate a loss of appetite from investors. Health needs change as populations continue to age, new diseases emerge and expectations from patients grow, suggesting there will be a market for solutions this sector can provide. 

Thinking regionally the innovation hotbed created by the factors above will, I am sure, continue to be a magnet for great minds, great entrepreneurs and smart investors even as new geographic entrants seek to create such ecosystems. Quality sells and our ecosystem should feel confident given its track record and outlook. 

Inevitably with such success comes challenges. The demand for laboratory space has never been higher and it is exciting to see developers committing record levels of investment. 

The competition for talent remains equally high. One Nucleus, through our support services, network and collaborators, is honoured to support our life science businesses in meeting their space, recruitment, knowledge-sharing and dealmaking goals – successes readers will see frequently reported in Business Weekly.