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Delivering the life sciences agenda: Easy as ABC

Published on 29/01/18 at 11:27am
IMAGE: Cambridge Biomedical Campus

Andrew Blevins and Andrew Carrington of Liberty Property Trust and Countryside Properties explain how organisations at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus are working to deliver the government’s life sciences agenda, and how other clusters across the UK can learn from their approach

Brexit and the renegotiation of the UK’s global position have thrust the life sciences sector firmly to the top of the political arena. There is clear recognition that this sector, already exemplary for its high productivity, diverse output and strong international export market, will be key to shaping a post-Brexit advanced economy.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels and progress is needed to ensure that the rapidly developing life sciences sector can realise its potential to become a cornerstone of ‘UK plc’. Critical to this is delivering the vision of Sir John Bell, whose recommendations for strengthening the £64 billion industry form the basis of the government’s recently published Life Sciences Sector Deal.

The deal is built on five foundations: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and places. Within this, the government’s plans centre on driving forward collaboration between business and the NHS, and supporting the UK’s burgeoning and established regional science clusters.

One such cluster is the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Supporting a diverse life sciences community since the early 1960s, the Campus is working to deliver the government’s vision through its ‘ABC’ formula: the colocation of academics, businesses and clinicians needed to accelerate the conversion of research into real-world healthcare for patients. This transformative vision was documented in the 2020 Vision at Addenbrooke’s, which described how these types of organisations working together would support the growth of scientific understanding; the discovery of new medical techniques; the education of healthcare staff; economic growth and improved access to modernised NHS services – and it is a formula which can and should be replicated across the UK.

Better together

A crucial part of the government’s strategy is to foster increased partnership between the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry. Data from Deloitte has shown that the average cost of bringing a new drug to market is now £1.2 billion, with many promising drugs never even making it past the development stage. It is easy to see why a new approach is needed to bring benefits for both patients and business.

More and earlier conversations between the clinicians who are dealing with the complex biology of human disease on a daily basis, and companies with the extensive and varied capabilities needed to apply this knowledge to drug development, is vital to advancing research, particularly as we search for treatments for less common and more challenging conditions. These collaborative partnerships will make development easier, faster and more cost-effective.

At the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, however, the model has been taken a step further. Here it is not just clinicians and businesses like AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline that are co-locating, but academics from the University of Cambridge too. Commercial occupiers, researchers and healthcare professionals from the two NHS Trusts on the site can tap into the whole lifecycle of life sciences development, with innovative ideas moving from the researcher’s lab bench, to the pre-clinical stages of drug development, through to clinical trials all in one place.

The beauty of the Campus is that no one organisation is pushing the site in a direction people don’t want to go. We are working to create something much more than another business park. As a developer, we are equal partners with the NHS, the University and other businesses, together creating a place where researchers, clinicians and academics can flourish for the benefit of all of society.

The advantages of this approach are far from theoretical. Cytosponge, for example, is just one ground-breaking discovery to have benefited from the unique combination of knowledge and capabilities located at the Campus. Offering a less intrusive way of detecting Barrett's oesophagus and oesophageal cancer, Cytosponge was developed by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald at the Medical Research Council Cancer Unit on the campus, a core-funded unit of the UK Medical Research Council and an academic department of the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, before being trialled at the Cambridge Clinical Research Facility, also housed on the site.

Building for the future – more than bricks and mortar

We have learnt from our Campus partners how this ‘bench-to-bedside’ model is essential to delivering the ambitions of the Life Sciences Sector Deal and realising the full potential of the sector. Crucially, it should become a key selling point for promoting UK life sciences abroad as the country looks to retain and attract international talent post-Brexit.

However, the process of creating an environment that facilitates genuine collaboration rather than just geographical co-location takes more than just bricks and mortar. Encouraging casual interactions in public areas and coffee shops instead of more formal settings can often spark discovery – the same spirit that led Watson and Crick to announce their discovery of DNA sequencing in a local pub.

Art is not often thought of as going hand in hand with scientific discovery, but it is an important part of our contribution to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. More than £1.5 million is being invested in public art by internationally-renowned artist Ryan Gander, as part of a landscape-first approach to development to encourage interaction on the site, creating built-in ‘water cooler moments’. Located at the heart of new green spaces and landscaped gardens, this artwork will create places where people of different disciplines and from different institutions are drawn together to share ideas.

As the UK’s new and existing regional clusters grow and develop, it is also important that these collaborative relationships are extended to the local community to make sure that neighbouring residents and businesses are brought with us as the industry evolves. The Life Sciences Sector Deal – a key part of the Industrial Strategy White Paper – stresses the importance of creating prosperous communities, good jobs and greater earning power for all across the UK through the ongoing growth of life sciences.

Of course, the benefits of this engagement stretch both ways – the government has made it clear that the sector must drive progress from within, and the Campus knows it must do its bit to encourage the next generation of researchers and clinicians through this dialogue and knowledge sharing with the community.

Facing facts

The global challenges facing healthcare will only be met through collaboration between researchers, businesses and frontline health services. Cambridge Biomedical Campus has nurtured internationally important discoveries for more than half a century by bringing these groups together and supporting them with world-leading facilities and infrastructure.

The government has taken note. Enshrining this approach in its Sector Deal, it is working with the UK’s regional science clusters and devolved administrations to help other sites profit from a more collaborative way of working, as well as investing in new regional infrastructure to help bring in talent, such as plans to progress Cambridge South station on the biomedical campus.

The life sciences sector must capitalise on this support. Doing so is not a simple process and it takes time and money to create the right kind of networked community. In the case of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, over £700 million has been invested over the past three years and we are now three-quarters of the way through the 2020 Vision to have expanded the site by 90 acres. Not all areas benefit from large areas of available development space around a leading University and NHS Hospitals as Cambridge does. However, even if physical co-location is not possible, the principles of establishing a networked chain of communication between academics, business and clinicians should be repeated across the UK.

Close collaboration between private sector science, frontline health services and academia will become even more crucial as the government works to reshape the UK’s digital infrastructure to capitalise on NHS data. The size of the UK’s population, together with an established ‘cradle-to-grave’ healthcare system, makes the potential scale of available patient data unique.

In a truly global industry where companies assess relocation on an international scale, this is a resource that the UK cannot afford to ignore and one that can be best developed together, working across institutional and disciplinary boundaries to harvest this information in a mutually profitable and responsible way to bring benefits for business, patients and ultimately UK plc.

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