Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts from the ‘Biotech Regions’ category

I have previously written about my visits to cities that have biotech clusters or aspire to have them, so thought it would be of interest to look at Liverpool, in the north west region of the UK.

Liverpool Three Graces

The World Heritage city, most famous for the Beatles, is trying to boost its knowledge economy and, like many cities with universities and a teaching hospital, wants to promote biomedical innovation and generate more life science investment.

The big unanswered question is can Liverpool compete with the so-called Golden Triangle, bounded by Oxford, Cambridge and London, where most UK biotech companies can be found?

Last year, AstraZeneca announced it was closing its Alderley Park research facility (approx 38 miles from Liverpool, 18 miles from Manchester). In a major blow to the reputation of the north west of England as a base for biomedical R&D, the company said they would relocate 1600 R&D staff to Cambridge, where they plan to build a new £330M research facility.

The attraction of London as a global biomedical hub is also likely to increase once the Francis Crick Institute opens in 2015.  A huge 79,000m2 facility is currently under construction next to St Pancras International Railway Station in west London, offering fast and efficient connections with continental Europe.

The participants and their investments are:

  • UK Medical Research Council (£300 million)
  • Cancer Research UK (£160 million)
  • Wellcome Trust (£120 million)
  • University College London (£40 million)
  • Imperial College London (£40 million)
  • Kings College London (£40 million)

The new high-speed rail network (HS2) from London that will significantly reduce journey times to regional cities, will sadly not reach Liverpool. It will, however, extend to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, making all of those regional cities much more attractive to entrepreneurs who want fast access to London.

So what does Liverpool offer you ask?

Dedicated VC funding

The North West Fund (European money to promote development and regeneration) has a £25M ($40M) biomedical sector fund, managed by Liverpool based VC firm Spark Impact.

I spoke with Investment Director, Dr Penny Attridge, who was positive about Liverpool’s potential as a biomedical hub, despite the attraction of the “Golden Triangle”:

An innovative company will obtain investment wherever it is located, but it’s important in any cluster to have local investors who can provide valuable expertise. The funding available is, however, relatively small, and £19M has already been invested. For emerging biotech companies, the amount of money they need to fund clinical trials far exceeds what this fund can offer.

One only has to think of the $120M that Seattle based Juno Therapeutics attracted in its Series A initial funding round to put this in context.

Liverpool Science Park

Liverpool does have a Science Park located in the city center close to the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University

Dedicated infrastructure is necessary if you want to set up a biotech company. As Chris Mussion CEO of Liverpool Science Park told me, unlike a digital company you can’t set up a life sciences company in your front room. You need a facility that provides properly equipped laboratories.

While the location of the Liverpool Science Park is in the heart of the city, it is competing with over 80 others in the country.

Also in the North West, the former AstraZeneca facilities in Alderley Park are set to become a new BioHub, which will initially provide 36,000 sq ft of space – yet more serious competition for Liverpool. Last month AstraZeneca announced the Alderley Park site would be sold to Manchester Science Parks.

How does Liverpool Science Park differentiate itself from all the others? I spoke to Chief Executive Chris Musson:

Network of Teaching Hospitals and a future bio-campus at Royal Liverpool University Hospital

There is a bio-campus planned as part of the construction of a new Royal Liverpool University Hospital.  Much to my surprise when I turned up for an agreed interview with a hospital senior manager about the BioCampus plans, the Director of Communications banned them from providing any details.  As a result all they said on the record is that the new bio-campus will provide facilities for small and medium companies.  What these facilities are, how these companies will be funded, and what innovation/IP they will seek to develop remains to be seen. The devil as they say is in the details.

I was surprised at how unhelpful the Royal Liverpool University Hospital communications staff were, especially given the stiff competition they face for attention and awareness from the Golden Triangle and elsewhere.

While the hospital does participate in a lot of clinical trials, that in itself is not innovation, but leveraging your patient population.  In my view, you need to create an entrepreneurial mindset within the clinical staff of a hospital or a university, something that more enlightened areas such as Southampton University do very well indeed.

Although Liverpool does have a Cancer Research UK Centre, if I were looking to locate an oncology drug develop company outside of the Golden Triangle, I’d look to being close to The Christie Hospital (in nearby Manchester). It’s the largest cancer center in Europe and where Cancer Research UK is constructing a new research facility aimed at world-class excellence.


Liverpool is highly likely to attract some funding and develop some small life science start-up companies by dint of having a teaching hospital and expertise from local universities.  There will always be local entrepreneurs and academic spin-offs who can access this funding.

Unfortunately, by the time the new bio-campus is developed, it will face increased competition from other regional centres with better connections and will find it tough to compete with the Golden Triangle.

To answer the original question – can Liverpool become a global biomedical hub – I really like Liverpool, and grew up on Merseyside, but the short answer to the question has to be answered with a brutally honest “No.”

There are, however, things that Liverpool can do:

Firstly, those involved in the Mersey bio community need to be more media friendly in order to get the message out about what Liverpool does offer. In addition to my negative experiences with the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the head of the merseybio incubator (designed as an environment for start-up biotech companies) did not respond to two phone calls and an email requesting an interview.

If you want to be positioned positively in the minds of potential investors and entrepreneurs you need to get your message out.

Secondly, I think Liverpool is too small a biomedical cluster to grow significantly on its own. What it needs is to create closer links with Manchester and other nascent biomedical hubs in the North West such as the one being built on the site of the former AstraZeneca R&D facility at Alderley Park.

A cluster needs access to people, infrastructure, investment and innovation. Liverpool needs to overcome it’s traditional competition with Manchester (40 minutes away by train).

When I spoke to Robin Tudor from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, he said one thing the airport lacked it is global connectivity. Simply put you can’t easily fly from Boston to Liverpool on a major airline. There’s no service to Liverpool by a Star Alliance, SkyTeam or OneWorld carrier from a major hub airport in Europe.

Whether people in Liverpool like it or not, Manchester is the global gateway to the region.

If the UK government is not planning to extend the HS2 high-speed rail link to Liverpool (from London), then the Liverpool City Region should build it’s own high-speed rail link to Manchester.

This would allow the creation of a North West of England regional biomedical cluster. It’s hard not to see how this would create an economy of scale and infrastructure that would be more attractive for investment.

Whether there is the political will to develop closer ties to Manchester remains to be seen.

I recently returned from a few days in Boston & Cambridge, so today, in memory of the late Alastair Cooke and his Letter from America, broadcast for 58 years from 1946 to 2004, I wanted to share with you my “Letter from Boston”.

New England is the No 1 biotechnology region on the East Coast of the United States and the Boston/Cambridge area of Massachusetts is the hub.

What makes Boston/Cambridge so attractive as a biotech region?  Amongst many, I’d suggest 3 factors stand out to me:

  1. Access to World-Class Science with an Entrepreneurial Focus.  With over 50,000 students in the Boston/Cambridge area it is a city with a focus on higher education.  Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts, Massachusetts General Hospital are but a few of the many research institutions.  However, what strikes me about the researchers in Boston/Cambridge area is the entrepreneurial focus they have.  The idea of starting up a company, commercializing an innovation or finding the application of science is something a lot of people want to do.  This entrepreneurial focus is key to the success of industry/academic colloboration in the area.
  2. Critical Mass of Industry infrastructure. There’s a range of companies in the Boston/Cambridge area. From start-ups such as Blueprint Medicines to more established companies such as Ariad, Vertex and Millennium-Takeda, what Boston/Cambridge offers is a critical mass of talent and people. Those working in the area have sufficient opportunities to move to new companies and positions, that it’s not a major career risk to move to the area.  There’s also a lot of early stage infrastructure such as the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research that bridges the gap between basic research and early stage commercial development.
  3. Geographic Location. Finally, what stands out for me is the excellent location that Boston has. You can easily reach New York’s investors and analysts, Washington Policy Makers or New Jersey big pharma without too much difficulty. At the same time, Boston is easily accessible for European companies, and the travel time to London can be less than going to the West Coast.

Pfizer recently announced further R&D investment in the Longwood Medical area, Harvard are building a new science campus in Allston and Vertex recently broke ground on a new headquarters in the South Boston innovation district.

For biotechnology companies at all stages of development there are a lot of opportunities in the Boston/Cambridge area.


I am excited to be attending, for the first time, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) international convention that takes place in Washington DC in just over a week’s time from Monday June 27 to Thursday, June 30th.

This meeting has something for everyone interested in the biotechnology industry whether it be deal making, partnering, licensing, drug discovery or personalized medicine. There are 16 specialized tracks where industry experts provide insight and best practices.

In addition, there are numerous networking and social events plus an exhibit hall that showcases the world’s biotech regions and how they are promoting innovation.

At meetings where there are parallel sessions, I apply “the law of two feet” (thanks to Podcamp for this) that says if you are not getting what you want from the session, it’s OK to walk out and go to another one.

My top 10 sessions at BIO reflect my personal interests in innovation, science and new product development:

Tuesday June 28

  • How will we afford Personalized Medicines?
  • The Biomarkers Consortium: Facilitating the Development and Qualification of Biological Markers
  • Personalized Oncology: The emergence of Personalized Medicine Strategies in Oncology Clinical Development and Deal Making
  • Navigating the New Law on Licensing Biosimilars

Wednesday June 29

  • Lessons from a Mature Public-Private Partnership. The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative
  • Emerging Markets. The Future of Growth for Biologics?
  • The Role of Imaging Biomarkers in Early Phase CNS Drug Development
  • The Promise of MicroRNA-based Therapeutics in Cancer

Thursday Jun 30

  • After the Fall. Venture Capital and the Biotech Funding Landscape
  • Regulatory Issues for Tissue Engineered Products

If you have plans to be at BIO 2011 do say hello after one of the sessions or receptions. You can reach me at the meeting via twitter (@3NT).  See you in DC!

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Today and tomorrow, Northern California’s Life Science organization BayBio has their annual meeting.  Entitled ‘Powering Global Innovation” it’s a meeting that covers a lot of ground from deal making to partnering, emerging markets and company presentations.

According to their website, they plan to be live streaming to their website.  However, if you are interested in following the Twitter discussion (hashtag #baybio2011), you can do so using the aggregator below – just click on the play button to see the tweets:

The Boston Globe today reported that Blueprint Medicines had received $40M in Series A venture funding.

The VC funding from Third Rock Ventures to the Boston/Cambridge based company is reported to be the largest early-stage funding for a New England life sciences start-up.

Many thanks to @rndubois for his tweets about this that drew it to my attention. You can read more about the financing in Blueprint’s press release.

What makes this exciting news?  First it adds to the growing reputation of Boston/Cambridge as a hot-spot for cancer research.  Blueprint Medicines will be focused on translational medicine and the development of new kinase inhibitors for the treatment of cancer.

Secondly, it confirms what is taught at business school, that investors back management expertise and their belief in the entrepreneurs ability to execute.  In the case of Blueprint Medicines the scientific co-founders are Dr Nicholas Lyndon and Dr Brian Druker, who were instrumental in the development of imatinib (Gleevec/Glivec), a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that revolutionized the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).

Blueprint Medicines is a company to watch for the future and Biotech Strategy Blog wishes it well in the quest for personalized medicine and more effective cancer treatments.

The launch of the company in Boston/Cambridge adds to my view that Boston is emerging as the premier biotech region on the East Coast for start-ups interested in oncology and translational medicine.

I was recently in San Francisco so thought I would continue my theme of writing about biotechnology regions that I visit around the United States.

Growing up in England, I remember listening to the radio broadcasts of the late Alistair Cooke, who from 1946 to 2004 shared his “Letter from America“; the longest running radio programme ever produced.  In the pre-internet era his mixture of anecdotes, insights and reflections reminds me of modern day blogs.

San Francisco remains a favorite city of mine. Fueled by access to venture capital and proximity to major research universities such as Stanford, University of California at Davis, Berkelely & San Francisco, start-up companies continue to thrive in the Bay area. BayBio, Northern California’s Life Science Association runs many excellent events. Their annual conference in April is focused on “Powering Global Innovation.”

The anchor tenant in the San Francisco biotech mall remains Genentech, and no other company in the area has had the same growth trajectory.  What catapults a company forward is a combination of a breakthrough product and ability to capture its value. The licensing deals and acquisitions we see today in the biotechnology industry, to some degree limit the ability of emerging biotech companies to repeat Genentech’s model. Risk sharing, partnering and the desire of venture capitalists for an early return on investment, all limit the ability of a biotech company to make it to the major leagues. In the end, even Genentech ended up being acquired by Roche.

What’s the future in San Francisco? It remains a high cost place to live but with a pool of talent in the entrepreneurial culture of the West Coast. There is also the uncertainty about the California economy and the cost of doing business, which is most likely set to increase.  In some way, my impression is that San Francisco has not quite taken off as a biotechnology city in the same way that Boston and Cambridge has. Feel free to comment if you disagree or have an opinion otherwise.

I’m off to a conference in Orlando today, so thought it might be interesting to follow-up on my previous post about the emerging medical device/biotechnology cluster around Austin, Texas to think about what’s happening in Central Florida.

Orlando is most well-known for Disney and theme parks, and major conferences (see my post on attending the ASH annual meeting in Orlando last year). However, the opening of a new medical school, children’s hospital and medical research institute will undoubtedly lead to biotechnology and biomedical companies considering start-ups in the surrounding area.

Florida, like Texas, offers no personal taxation and Orlando is also well connected for flight connections throughout the country.

Orlando, in my opinion, is further behind Austin, and to some degree all cities with a medical school, in it’s attempt to drive research and innovation.  Whether Central Florida can establish a critical mass of companies and sufficient industry talent is the challenge, especially as multiple regions across the United States are also competing for biotechnology $.

However, even if Orlando does not become a major biotechnology cluster, it is more likely to become a major center for clinical and biomedical research.

In April 2009, the La Jolla based Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute opened a new research facility at Lake Nona in Orlando.  It is home to 900 scientists undertaking R&D on drug discovery, stem cells, nanomedicine and translational research.

One of research areas it is focusing on is diabetes and obesity, or diabesity as it is rapidly becoming known, an area that is rapidly reaching pandemic proportions in the United States. A symposium on Frontiers in Biomedical Science: Metabolic Networks and Disease Signatures will be held on March 11.

Luke Timmerman’s post on Xconomy about the Institute and the $50M gift it received last year to change its name is well worth a read.  In another post, he also raises the question of whether biotechnology companies can make money going after diabesity, notwithstanding the market opportunity? Need and market opportunity don’t always translate into valid targets for drug development, especially when many of the issues to do with diabetes and obesity relate to lifestyle and food content.

The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is the cornerstone of a cluster of bio-medical research companies and healthcare institutions, including the M.D. Anderson Orlando Cancer Research Institute, the new University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine that opened in 2009, and Nemours Children’s Hospital that will open in 2012.

I think it will take several years before we can see if a significant biotechnology cluster grows up around these research and medical institutions.  Whether Central Florida and Orlando can grow into a leading biotechnology region remains to be seen.

I was in Austin last week for a business meeting (spot the snow around the State Capitol) and was interested to learn that Austin, TX is an emerging and growing biotechnology cluster.

Michael Porter in the Harvard Business Review has written about the importance of clusters of interconnected companies, universities, suppliers and service providers and how these drive increased productivity, innovation and stimulate further new businesses.  An important contributor of growth and economic development is the pool of talented workers that develops and is attracted to the local area around the cluster.

Despite being better known for its high tech companies such as Dell, and as the “live music capital of the world”, there is an emerging biotech cluster around Austin. Austin boasts warm winter weather (most of the time), proximity to the flagship University of Texas at Austin, and the incentives of a tax friendly, State of Texas (no personal or corporate taxation).

According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, there are now more than 100 companies in the areas of research, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. These include Abbott Spine, Arthrocare Corp, Agilent, Alk-Abello, Asuragen, Luminex, Viagen and Zimmer Biologics. Although the University of Texas at Austin lacks a medical school, MD Anderson established a Science Park for basic and translational cancer research in the area.  This reminds me of similar facilities in La Jolla.

The University of Texas at Austin also provides a growing pool of educated workers, and I see the convergence of information technology in drug discovery, as where the many IT graduates with an interest in life sciences, can have an important role to play.  Bioinformatics and computational biology is becoming increasing important in cancer research, for example.

The University, like many others, provides an incubator for technology start-ups that has raised over $725M in funding.  You can read about the important role incubators have to play in the development of biotechnology companies in Christopher Pirie’s interesting article in the MIT Entrepreneurship Review).

However, what cements my view that Austin is an emerging cluster, is the fact that growing start-up companies are now choosing to relocate to Austin, rather than move to more established biotech areas such as Boston or Seattle.  Pain Therapeutics Inc. a San Mateo, CA company announced in October last year they would be moving to Austin by the end of 2011 and planned to hire 50-100 employees in Research & Development.  As more companies move to the Austin area, this trend is likely to continue.

If you are a growing, biotech start-up company, Austin should be on your radar of potential areas to build your business.

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