Last week the Mayor of London led a delegation to the US East Coast, showcasing UK life sciences in Boston and New York. Sarah Haywood, Chief Operating Officer, MedCity, provides some of her reflections from the trip and examines how the UK scales up to the likes of Boston – the Mecca of the life sciences sector.
There are lots of ways to keep warm when the temperature is way below freezing. In New York last week as part of the Mayor of London’s delegation to the US East Coast, Reza Razavi of King’s Health Partners and I took the athletic option of hauling our suitcases through the upper edges of Manhattan to visit the Harlem Biospace. It was well worth the effort to see what is being achieved there – seventeen very young companies in a real incubator that was kitted out for $600k. Our reaction – why can’t we do this?
Despite the thick snow that caused some hasty schedule rearrangements (Harvard was closed, MIT partially so), being part of the Mayor’s delegation in Boston and New York has been inspiring and energising. We were greeted everywhere with genuine enthusiasm for the UK and recognition of our life sciences excellence. Companies want to carry out clinical trials and develop bases here as they bring products to the US market. There is significant collaboration with UK academic centres and an appetite for more.
Boston, of course, is the Mecca of the life sciences sector – the place that famously has the highest concentration of companies within a two mile square radius of anywhere on earth. It’s instructive to meet the community there to find out what we can learn, but also see how finely matched we are; in many ways, I would argue, the UK has the edge.
For Boris Johnson, who really gets life sciences and is actively supporting the sector, the big message for his US visit was that the UK has a massively innovative culture that presents huge opportunities for industry and investors alike. For life sciences, that is underpinned by some of the world’s best universities and healthcare centres, and, particularly in London, a hugely diverse population served by a single, integrated health system. We are already attracting serious investment from the US, not least from Gilead Sciences and Boston-based health tech company Mobiquity, who both announced new $20m HQs in London last week.
We know we have challenges – not enough incubator and grow on space for all the emerging and growing companies that the sector is producing; and access to investment for life sciences in the UK does not yet match what can be sourced in the US. These are all challenges that can be tackled, especially when we have the political backing we are now lucky enough to enjoy.
For me, the highlight of the trip was the opportunity to meet the great serial entrepreneur and academic powerhouse Robert Langer. His advice for the UK? Culture change takes time but persevere – you will get there. You need role models – individuals and companies that aspiring entrepreneurs can look at and think ‘they did it, and so can I’. And mixing disciplines – particularly engineers and bioscientists – is where the really important and successful innovations are created.
The UK life sciences sector ticks all those boxes and we can already see the results. It’s not too ambitious to envisage a time when the Boston mayor leads a life sciences delegation to London, to benefit from our wisdom and our weather.