The economies of California and the UK are similar, the university networks can also be compared, why then does California boast the most successful Biotechnology companies and the UK no significant success?
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It is not all about the weather, baseball or cricket, Shiraz or Fuller’s Best…Driving up Sandhill Road from Palo Alto to the freeway I-280 one notices HP and Lawyers but also many venture capital offices, built to service the ideas coming from Stanford and the Biotech community from Palo Alto to Downtown San Francisco.
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Sadly the M4 corridor does not have the same concentration of venture finance.
Interestingly, the Biotech community in the Bay area does not just form around Stanford, but also around UCSF and around the existing biotech “superpowers”; Genentech, Biogen-Idec etc. In short there is a community established and successful in the Bay area, there is not in London.
This means that the development of biotech in the Bay area is supported by experienced investors, management and scientists; over time experience from the likes of Amgen gets ploughed into Biotechs of a new generation – this is not true in London, largely because any successful UK start up is quickly converted into cash through a trade sale rather than developing as a company. While it is possible for each of the interest groups to blame the other – Universities to bemoan the lack of finance; investors to moan about the lack of experienced management and management the lack of support, this is not helpful, we need to be joined in an effort to establish the London area as a powerhouse of biotechnology. In the London area I include Oxford and Cambridge. We need that level of critical mass to ensure the ideas and the finance come together with a supportive environment, with facilities being key to help move ideas fast from conception to delivery into the hands of doctors for the benefit of patients.
Go in the opposite direction from Palo Alto to highway 101 one notices many areas where laboratory space and facilities are available to rent at rents less than 10% of the cost in the London area. The community extends to developers and facility providers, giving the scientific concepts support in the most practical way. Driving out of London on the A13 we see Canary Wharf and shopping centres and further out Dagenham, but where are those cheap and efficient developments to provide the core base?
Biotechnology provides more than 250,000 jobs in the Californian economy, a rough figure for the UK would be 20% of that. Yet we have the skill base and we have the financial base to do better. Each job for a skilled biotechnology worker is estimated to create almost two jobs in the less skilled parts of the local ecomomy.
Let us see a focus on the triangle between London, Oxford and Cambridge, real determination to support companies with high growth potential and a determination to see a little more sunshine in an industry with tremendous growth prospects.
Written by Keith Powell
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.