The BioFocus 2023 conference showcases the North East’s life sciences sector and the region’s impressive community of world class companies, innovation assets and academic research excellence. Invest North East England’s Michelle Duggan reflects on BioFocus 2023 and takes a look at the buoyant life sciences sector in the region
The life sciences sector in the North East is a wide-ranging, coherent and collaborative cluster. It encompasses large-scale pharmaceutical manufacturing, with global companies such as GSK and Sterling Pharma delivering high volume medicines and treatments, right through to highly innovative small companies engaged in disruptive technologies such as LightOx, which is developing a light-activated treatment for mouth cancers.
We benefit from an impressive array of truly world-class research and facilities – industry engaged universities and places to collaborate. Assets such as Newcastle Helix, NETPark, National Innovation Centres for Data and Ageing, the International Centre for Life and the National Healthcare Photonics Centre at CPI all underpin our capabilities.
Yesterday, I joined a panel of experts at BioFocus 2023 to discuss the state of the region, through a life sciences lens. The one-day conference took place at The Catalyst, Newcastle Helix, and brought together industry, academia and experts within the field of life sciences from across the North East and beyond.
It is fantastic to see an increasing number of events like BioFocus being held in the region and I was sharing the stage with panellists that reflect the ecosystem in the region, including Academic Health Science Network, Cancer Research UK and Praetura Ventures. This mix of experts ensured a dynamic and engaging discussion was held on how we can use our regional strengths to bring about a step change in investment and economic growth.
In North East England we have everything needed to support life sciences – from initial research, product development to clinical trials, and experts in pharma, manufacturing, precision medicine, and ageing and health.
The prospect of regional devolution will enhance our ability to create the conditions that allow businesses to flourish. We can use the new funds and devolved powers as levers to build on successful projects, such as the North of Tyne’s Internet of Caring Things programme and Sunderland University’s investment in drug discovery facilities.
We are seeing an uplift in inward investment interest in the North East both in the number of enquiries and international visitors. In the last two weeks alone, we have hosted two international delegations of Med Tech and Health Tech companies form Canada and Spain. They learned about our strengths in Healthy Ageing and the work of the National Innovation Centres for Ageing and Data, as well as CPI Med Tech and advanced manufacturing capabilities. It was a hugely successful mission and we’re hoping that this opportunity to promote our region’s life sciences and ageing sector will reap rewards in the future.
Our ambition to grow our life sciences sector is well founded. Work undertaken last year by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership demonstrated the feasibility of the region becoming a base for large scale life sciences manufacturing and innovation, building on already strong pharmaceutical manufacturing foundations. In addition, partners in Newcastle have made significant progress to expand on the hugely successful Biosphere lab space incubator, placing the capital investment opportunity for Bioshpere 2 on the Government’s Investment Atlas, a platform which showcases the best of the UK’s opportunities to investors around the globe. To meet the growing demand for lab space, regional partners are investigating methods for life sciences companies to easily adapt existing buildings into fully spec’d laboratories.
It is clear that the North East has the potential to significantly grow the sector and capital investment in sites and premises will underpin this growth. However, UK investment and finance tends to focus on the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, a world-leading life sciences cluster, but one where the market is overheating. We have plans to shine a light on the opportunities we have in the North East Life’s sciences sector to attract this investment to our region. And my fellow panellists at BioFocus 2023 agree, we are a prime market for life sciences investors to discover a rich seam of opportunity.