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All things Pharma

Fostering a life science culture

Medtech innovation needs the right business environment to flourish. We look at BioCity Nottingham, a life science ‘incubator’ that brings SMEs together within a common space.

In 2005 the UK Government designated six ‘Science Cities’ – Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and York – to lead the development of links between business and the science base and ensure that science and technology succeed in driving economic growth.

With a strong track record in pharmacy (as the original home of Boots) and engineering, Nottingham is a natural centre for life science innovation. A major feature of its recent business activity is the development of BioCity, a life science ‘incubator’ of the kind pioneered in Scandinavia. The largest such incubator in Europe, BioCity brings together 70 life science companies and nearly 600 people within a single building.

As part of the City Council’s ‘Invest in Nottingham Day’, we visited BioCity Nottingham to see how giving a life science cluster its own home benefits the scientific and commercial development of SMEs.

 
Glenn Crocker

The right chemistry

BioCity Nottingham is housed in a former Boots R&D facility. In 2003 it was adapted as an incubator for start-ups in medtech, bioscience and pharma. Of its tenant companies, two-thirds are engaged in life science R&D while the rest provide support services to life science companies.

In contrast to a science park, where the tenant companies have little contact with each other, an incubator provides a business ecosystem where companies interact and share facilities and expertise. The internal economy helps to make resources stretch further – for example, an NMR is used by several companies that could not have bought it independently. No company is allowed to take up more than 20% of the building’s usable space, thus ensuring that there is no ‘daddy’ in the household.

Successful medtech products developed within BioCity Nottingham include the Monica foetal monitor, the FertilMate cooling patch and the BabyNose nasal aspirator. The recurrent ‘baby’ theme may be a coincidence, but scientific and commercial fertility are central to BioCity’s ethos – while the stylish design of the silver-grey building reflects its role as a showcase and meeting centre.

According to Glen Crocker, Chief Executive of BioCity Nottingham, the incubator provides a complete environment for taking an innovative idea from inception to market. The in-house support services available include NHS liaison, data management, regulatory guidance, IP management, health and safety, PR and asset finance. “No company works alone here,” Glen notes, and many tenant companies – including industry specialist Medilink East Midlands – find much of their business within BioCity.

The incubator plays a major role in the region’s business training. The Bio-Entrepreneur School provides a three-day course for people who want to start a life science company. The Germinator programme enables start-up founders to work with experienced life science entrepreneurs.

Glen emphasises the value to tenant companies of “staircase conversations”: informal interactions triggered by everyday contact. The quality of face-to-face meetings, he argues, has more business value than social networking sites or e-mail contact can provide. The development follows the outsourcing model of pharma, with “many small, fleet of foot companies working in collaboration”.

 
Alan Marsh

A touch of class

We spoke to two BioCity Nottingham tenants whose experience reflects the opportunities that the incubator provides for life science SMEs.

Alan Marsh is Director of Allmi-Care, the company responsible for Quool and other cooling patches for skin application. He notes that BioCity tenancy has provided his “micro-company” with vital opportunities to make contacts and develop partnerships – including the collaboration with BabyStart that enabled the two companies to develop the FertilMate testicular cooling device, “a marriage made in Heaven”.

BioCity has enabled AllmiCare to liaise with local universities for product development, and provided infrastructure and specialist support that have helped it to reach wide-ranging markets. Alan says of the incubator: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Eric Hilton is Sales Director at Food and Drug Analytical Services, a firm providing product testing and validation services. FDAS does a lot of business within BioCity, but has also grown to reach new clients worldwide. Eric notes the value of BioCity as a professional “front” for its tenants. He also emphasises the cultural advantages of working there: the atmosphere of mutual respect and exchange of ideas, he says, “makes coming to work a pleasure”.

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