Wales’ life science hub: six months on
pharmaphorum speaks to Dr Ian Barwick, chief operating officer of the Life Sciences Hub Wales, about where the group stands six months from launch and how its partnership with a £100 million fund is attracting global investment and harnessing the growth of existing and emerging life sciences businesses in Wales.
Since its establishment in July 2014, Wales' first Life Sciences Hub has become the epicentre of the country's burgeoning life sciences scene. Its aim is to create a melting pot of the best minds in life sciences – stimulating interaction, innovation, networking and collaboration in this growing sector.
The Hub has seen an unprecedented rate of visitors, recording eight times more than expected within the first three months of opening. In just six months, it has seen 2,223 unique visitors and now has 62 members, surpassing targets by 300 per cent.
These members range from ambitious solo entrepreneurs to globally-recognised companies. Put simply, the Hub aims to be an innovative and successful gateway, supporting business as a catalyst for change and growth in the Welsh life sciences sector.
For a small nation, Wales really punches above its weight in the life sciences sector. It is home to world-renowned companies such as GE and Biomet and some of our finest academic and clinical minds. For example, the chair of the Life Sciences Hub Wales, Professor Chris McGuigan, has driven cutting-edge drug discovery for diseases including Hepatitis C and cancer. Encouragingly, his most recent clinical trial for an anti-cancer ProTide technology has seen an above 80 per cent response rate among patients.
Wales is recognised internationally for its research and development excellence. Academically its universities have achieved a strong ranking in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) and its commitment to nurturing innovation and harnessing scientific talent has been bolstered by the launch of Ser Cymru, The Life Sciences Resource Network Wales.
"Over £2.4 million has already been committed to projects in oncology, infectious disease and neuroscience, and the project aims to co-fund up to 100 researchers over the next four years"
Led by Cardiff University, the network was set up to enhance Wales' excellent research capacity, attracting world-leading scientists and their teams to develop pioneering medicines. Over £2.4 million has already been committed to projects in oncology, infectious disease and neuroscience, and the project aims to co-fund up to 100 researchers over the next four years.
However, if we are to improve on the life sciences eco-system we have in Wales, we need to ensure that the companies developing new pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and technologies are appropriately financed - both during the R&D stage and when establishing manufacturing operations, which, in turn, generates jobs and economic prosperity.
The Hub has access to a dedicated £100 million life sciences fund to invest in emerging and established life sciences companies. This Wales Life Sciences Investment fund is managed by Arthurian Life Sciences, a company established by biotech entrepreneur Sir Chris Evans. It reinforces our ambition for Wales to be a world-leading location for life sciences businesses. In fact, we are the only life sciences cluster in the world to collaborate with a dedicated fund.
We recognise that, compared to other sectors, life sciences businesses can rapidly grow and generate considerable economic value. One notable success story is Penn Pharma, which, after being based in Wales for three decades, has recently been sold to US-based firm Packaging Coordinators Inc for £127 million.
Whether it is a start-up business with big ambitions or an established firm looking to achieve further growth, this unique partnership model provides access to significant levels of funding and other support streams that will help firms grow and prosper. The Hub provides a pipeline of opportunities for the Fund by bringing together exciting start-ups, established businesses and other key stakeholders. Then the Arthurian Life Sciences team independently evaluates any prospects identified by the Hub and brings appropriate co-investors and management on board if necessary.
The response to the Wales Life Sciences Investment has been phenomenal, with over 300 business applications. Of these, six have been funded so far. The Fund has invested in home-grown talent - Simbec, Orion and Medaphor – and international businesses looking to relocate too: ReNeuron, Verona Pharma and Interrad Medical.
Attracting international companies is a competitive business; our success in bringing these firms to Wales demonstrates the power and appeal of our unique Hub-Fund partnership.
"Over £20 million of investment has been supplemented by £40 million from institutional investors to date, demonstrating a clear vote of confidence"
Over £20 million of investment has been supplemented by £40 million from institutional investors to date, demonstrating a clear vote of confidence in Wales as a great place to do business in the life sciences sector.
Despite the partnership's success, there are, of course, challenges. As this is a new venture, flexibility and teamwork is crucial. The Hub needs to gather the right information to understand the investment opportunities that the Fund is seeking. Only by working closely together can we develop a clear, shared understanding of each other's requirements.
While it is always difficult to decline an application, the Fund will only invest in firms that can demonstrate clear potential. By focussing on companies with high growth potential, we can generate significant economic and social benefits.
For instance, the six companies the fund has invested in are now valued at £160 million, and we will continue to invest to build on this early success over the coming years.
Whilst the partnership is still in its early stages, our priority is to ensure any future investments will successfully translate into benefits for patients and the wider economy.
The Life Sciences Hub Wales, and its associated investment fund, is central to the vision of creating a thriving life sciences ecosystem in Wales. It's about generating positive outcomes for health and wealth, both in Wales and beyond.
About the author:
Dr Ian Barwick is chief operating officer at the Life Sciences Hub Wales. He has a decade's experience of working in life sciences across the academic, public and commercial sectors. As business development manager at University College Dublin, he developed new industry relationships with the 500 university researchers in the biomedical and bio-molecular fields, successfully securing new business and research.
He also has experience working at Finance Wales, one of the UK's largest SME investment companies. His role as spin out cluster manager involved mentoring prospective academic companies in preparing business plans.
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