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Top 5 R&D hubs in the UK

Read this cover story in the June issue of Pf Magazine here. 


Join us on a tour of inspirational research and development centres. 

As the host to leading global universities and the finest scientific talent, the UK is a world–leading location for diverse and innovative research and development (R&D). The UK life sciences sector currently encompasses around 5000 companies, supports over 220,000 jobs, and generates an annual turnover of over £60 billion*.


1. ‘The Golden Triangle’

The South East of England has long been a thriving hub for R&D activity in the UK, and is home to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge.



Oxford has developed an impressive reputation in the biotechnology space, witnessing more than £1.2bn of investment in biomedical research over the last five years. The city is host to the Oxford Biotech cluster, one of the most mature life science clusters in Europe, as well as business, science and technology facility, Milton Park, home to around 250 businesses.

Oxford BioTrans, an Oxford University spinout, opened an R&D facility at Milton Park in 2016, while Adaptimmune, one of the UK’s leading cancer research companies, is steadily expanding. Ipsen has moved in, while Oxitec are in situ and working with the World Health Organisation to create a genetically modified mosquito. The aim is
to decimate local mosquito populations, after it proved effective against Zika in small scale field trials.

The Oxford biotech cluster, supported by the Oxford Biotech Network (OBN), conducts a wide range of activities from traditional drug discovery and development to medical technology innovation. The University’s influence is significant, and its spin-out companies include Oxford BioMedica, Oxford Gene Technology and Celleron Therapeutics.



Cambridge has been described by MP Daniel Zeichner as “the beating heart of research and science in the UK today”. In April this year, AstraZeneca marked a key milestone with the ‘topping out’ of its new state-of-the-art, strategic R&D centre and global corporate headquarters at the heart of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC).

The company, including its biologics research and development arm, MedImmune, already has 2000 employees working in Cambridge among the city’s lively scientific, academic, clinical and business community. There is a high concentration of leading scientific organisations at the CBC, across Cambridge and the region, all sharing knowledge, skills and expertise.

Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, said: “We believe Cambridge offers a tremendously vibrant academic and life-sciences ecosystem that can truly catalyse discovery and innovation.”


London and the greater South East

MedCity is a collaboration between the Mayor of London, Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, King’s Health Partners, UCL Partners, Cambridge Health Partners and Oxford Academic Health Science Centre. It was launched in April 2014 to promote and grow the world-leading life sciences cluster of the South East of England.

The greater South East region is home to five out of the UK’s six Academic Health Science Centres and has four universities regularly placed in the global top 10.

Just north of London, in Hertfordshire, are the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), and Roche’s global R&D hub, in Welwyn Garden City. Roche invested almost half a billion pounds in UK R&D in 2016 and registered more clinical trials than any other company.

SBC is the UK’s first Open Innovation campus, created to bring academia, biotech and pharma companies together to advance healthcare research more effectively. SBC is jointly funded to the tune of £38m by BEIS, GSK, Wellcome and Innovate UK (TSB).

The University of Cambridge has located an innovation centre at SBC, where it can develop academic drug assets with access to relevant expertise at SBC and GSK. This will lead to the development of relationships with other leading universities, while UCL also has a presence on the site.

Outgoing CEO Martino Picardo says that it is the quality of scientific research in the UK that makes it a serious player on the global R&D stage. “We are world–leading in drug discovery and development across academia, small companies and corporates like GSK and Astra Zeneca, both of which have R&D sites in the UK,” he explained. “We are considered to rank alongside the Boston and California hubs and we must strive to stay at that level. The quality of the science is unquestionable and how we translate that science in new therapies and for patient benefit is good and will get better.”


2. The Northern Powerhouse

When George Osbourne launched his plan to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in 2014, his aim was to close the historical economic gap between north and south. It is now home to over 1000 life sciences and healthcare companies operating across a wide range of specialisations. There are 45,000 people working in life sciences and healthcare-associated industries across the region, which covers the North East, North West and Yorkshire.

Global companies including Allergan, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, Recipharm and Shire serve UK and global markets from their key manufacturing and R&D operations based in the area.


The North East

The North East produces 33% of the UK’s GDP in pharmaceutical manufacturing with 95% of finished product exported to global markets, while MSD, in Cramlington, Northumberland, is one of the most advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging facilities in the world and employs over 400 people. The UK’s Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) opened its £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) in Darlington, Co. Durham, in 2015, to help companies develop, prove and commercialise new processes and technologies for the manufacture of biologics.


The North West

Big pharma has made the North West its home, with several global pharmaceutical companies including Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca’s biologics arm, Medimmune, and Novartis Vaccines operating manufacturing facilities in Speke, Liverpool, as part of the largest cluster of biologic manufacturing in Europe.

Drug discovery and development firm RedX Pharma has established a 74,000 sq. ft. development facility at Alderley Park, Cheshire for Redx Oncology, which develops anti–cancer drugs. Additional investment in the region includes £4m for a drug discovery catapult, and £4m for the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre, both also at Alderley Park.


 Yorkshire and the Humber

The region is home to one of the largest clusters of orthopaedic, medical device and surgical companies in the UK, including Smith and Nephew and Reckitt Benckiser. WELMEC Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering (which researches and develops new types of intervention for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems), EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Medical Devices (Leeds, Bradford and  Sheffield) and the Leeds Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC), also operate in the area.


3. Scotland

Edinburgh’s BioQuarter site is a leading European destination for translational medical research. The site is home to institutions and companies including Queens Medical Research Institute, which brings together over 650 researchers with strengths in cardiovascular disease, reproductive health and inflammatory and respiratory research, and Fios Genomics, which provides bioinformatics data analysis services to pharma, CROs and academia for drug discovery and development and applied research. The world–leading Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, which studies stem cells, disease and tissue repair to advance human health, has also made its home here.


4. Wales

Launched in 2014, Life Sciences Hub Wales, based in Cardiff Bay, brings together Wales’ life sciences ‘eco system’ and honours the Welsh Government’s commitment to establishing the country as one of the foremost environments in the world for lifes sciences innovation, delivering at least £1 billion of extra value within the sector in Wales by 2022. Members of the hub include medical technologies and services company GE Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis and MSD.


5. Northern Ireland

There are more than 150 native firms in Northern Ireland’s life sciences space, employing 7500 people and exporting over £1bn.

The Almac Group, a contract development and manufacturing organisation which provides services to companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors all over the world, is headquartered in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. Services encompass R&D and biomarker discovery and development. Almac is expanding in Craigavon by building a new lab and offices, and last year announced plans to expand into Dundalk, in the Republic of Ireland, to ensure access to the single market in the wake of Brexit uncertainty.   





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Amy Schofield
Amy Schofield
Amy is Special Editions Editor at Pharmafield. She is an experienced journalist and editor of both digital and print content across healthcare, technology and careers. 


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