Wales launches its own life sciences hub
A new initiative has been launched to help the life sciences sector flourish in Wales, with a £100 million investment fund to boost innovation and growth.
The £100 million Life Sciences Investment Fund is the largest dedicated investment fund for any sector in Wales, indicating the potential for jobs and economic growth that life sciences can provide.
However the fund will face stiff competition from other UK, European and global life science clusters, a business model which regions in every country are now using to attract investment.
The Cardiff-based Life Sciences Hub Wales is a joint effort co-ordinated by the government in Wales and leading life science leaders, and is looking to provide not only financial support but also business advice to help start-ups succeed.
Life Sciences Hub Wales will help co-ordinate efforts and grow the country’s existing life sciences sector
The centre, located in the Cardiff Bay area, is just a stone’s throw from the Welsh parliament the Senedd, and will be officially opened today by Welsh Minister for Economy, Science and Transport Edwina Hart.
The Welsh government says the £100 million fund will work alongside other forms of finance, and has set itself a goal of adding at least £1 billion of extra value to the sector by 2022.
Also in attendance will be Prof Chris McGuigan, chair of Life Sciences Hub Wales, and life sciences entrepreneur Prof Sir Chris Evans, together with businessman Theo Paphitis, best known for Dragons’ Den, the BBC programme which brings together small-to-medium size businesses (SMEs) and venture capitalists.
The collaborators hope to create a “vibrant and prosperous Life Sciences ecosystem” bringing together academic, business, clinical, professional services and funding organisations to create more successful companies.
The Life Sciences Hub and the investment fund will be used to connect the life sciences throughout Wales, attract new sector opportunities and investment, nurture emerging life sciences projects, and accelerate the growth of the sector in Wales to create jobs and economic growth.
Life Sciences Hub Wales has secured Johnson & Johnson Innovation and GE Healthcare as anchor tenants at the centre, which is also envisaged as a hub for interaction between life sciences, big pharma and the NHS.
Sir Chris Evans
The £100 million fund is actually a partnership between the Welsh Government, which is putting £50 million into the Fund, with the other half to be raised by Arthurian Life Sciences, a venture firm established by Sir Chris Evans, one of the UK’s best known life sciences venture capitalists and champions.
Evans’ Arthurian Life Sciences will play a key role, as it will also be responsible for managing the investments from the fund.
The fund has already made four strategic investments, committing £20 million to the Welsh Life Sciences sector to date. These investments include the Merthyr Tydfil-based clinical trials business Simbec Research, where the fund provided initial growth money and recently a second round to fund the merger with Orion Clinical Services. Simbec has grown from a business generating revenues of £5 million and employing 80 people, to a multi-site business with 250 staff across Europe expected to generate turnover of £25m this year.
Another notable coup already secured is the relocation of ReNeuron’s cell manufacturing operations to the region. ReNeuron is a pioneering stem cell therapy specialists company, with a potentially groundbreaking treatment for stroke currently in clinical trials. The fund attracted the company to relocate operations and establish a state-of-the-art cell manufacturing and development facility at Pencoed Technology Park, near Cardiff, due to complete in Spring 2015.
An investment was also made in Verona Pharma, which develops drugs for respiratory disease, to further advance the drugs currently undergoing clinical trials. Verona, like ReNeuron Group, is listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, and is an example of where the Arthurian fund has encouraged co-investors to participate in funding rounds, attracting additional external investment into the Life Sciences sector in Wales.
“Often the hardest part of being an emerging business or an entrepreneur in the Life Sciences space is having the availability of funds,” says Sir Chris Evans.
“But not just that, it’s also having access to the pooled experience and knowledge of those who have done it before and the professional bodies and advisers who regularly serve our industry.
“I’m delighted that Wales has today made those key elements readily available through the Fund and the Life Sciences Hub and it shows to the rest of the world that Wales is a great place for Life Sciences innovation.”
Sêr Cymru – National Research Network in Health and Life Sciences
In addition to the Hub and the Life Sciences Fund, the Welsh Government has launched Sêr Cymru, a £50m scheme to enhance and build on the research capacity in Wales. Prof Chris McGuigan is also head of the National Research Network in Health and Life Sciences which provides co-funding to researchers in the area of drug discovery and development for unmet medical needs.
The Life Sciences Hub will collaborate with other centres of Life Sciences excellence in the UK and already has a co-operation agreement in place with MedCity, an initiative launched by Mayor of London Boris Johnson in April this year that brings together the Life Sciences specialists in London, Oxford and Cambridge.
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