The Northern Supercluster Fuelling the UK’s Science Superpowers


By Dr Kath Mackay, Director of Life Sciences for Bruntwood SciTech, the UK’s leading property specialist dedicated to the growth of the science and technology sector.

The North of England’s life sciences sector is one of the key engines driving not just the Northern Powerhouse but the UK’s reputation as a global science superpower.

With the industry sitting at the heart of the Government’s aspirations for a global Britain and the sector’s growth defying recent economic challenges, the opportunity to create value through new investment into its Northern businesses and infrastructure has rarely been greater.

Home to a fifth of the country’s life sciences workforce and generating £13.6bn of economic value every year – a third of the sector’s total output in the UK – the North is a supercluster of innovation districts creating high value jobs, exports and pioneering breakthroughs.

A rich ecosystem of businesses from across the life sciences spectrum, ranging from global market-leading businesses to promising start-ups, call the region home. The North boasts 19% of the UK’s biopharmaceutical workforce, 22% of its medtech industry and a third of its digital health talent-base.

Complex medicines manufacturing is a key sub-sector that thrives in the region. AstraZeneca’s huge facility at Macclesfield is one of the largest in Europe and it alone generates 1% of the UK’s entire GDP every year.

Fujifilm Diosynth in Teesside is another world class asset and now at the forefront of the global fight against COVID as the source of production of 60m doses of Novavax’s vaccine.

Diagnostics is a core strength, with global industry leader Qiagen placing its global centre of excellence for precision medicine in Manchester and the Medicines Discovery Catapult at Alderley Park, Cheshire, is at the forefront of the UK’s drug discovery sector.

Leading infectious disease research is conducted by institutions such as the Infection Innovation Consortium – iiCON – led by Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine alongside government, the NHS, Unliver, Index Therapeutics and Evotec.

The North also boasts large scale genomics capabilities, through institutes such as The University of Liverpool MRC/NERC Centre, and in Newcastle which hosts the largest clinical laboratory in Europe, and leading SMEs such as YourGene Health and QuantuMDx.

The foundations underpinning these commercial success stories are a cluster of world leading scientific and research-intensive universities based in the North’s cities, each feeding a talent pool that’s drawn to the region for its quality of life and lower cost of living.

These are further supported by a collection of key national scientific institutions, like Darlington’s Centre for Process Innovation and National Horizons Centre act as magnets for new investment, innovation and enterprise.

Meanwhile, the North’s devolved politics, with city region-level responsibilities for healthcare in places such as Greater Manchester, can help facilitate innovative and large-scale clinical and policy trials.

Regular collaboration between the North’s bedrock of academic and institutional excellence and the wider public and private sectors seeks to leverage the region’s collective power.

This includes bodies such as the Northern Health Science Alliance, which brings together 10 universities and NHS trusts along with four Academic Health Science Networks to unlock the huge potential of the North’s life sciences assets.

Strong links have also been forged with some of the UK’s other scientific hotspots, including the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’ of Cambridge, London and Oxford.

The two areas are closely entwined by commercial relationships, with many firms in the North providing specialist services to customers in the South East and vice versa, and clinical relationships, with the North boasting large and diverse patient populations, and world leading clinical research infrastructure.

Northern businesses are at the vanguard of life sciences and we have the raw ingredients here required to accelerate the creation of new high-value jobs and economic growth. Several of its cities and regions are singled out as being among the UK’s self-sustaining clusters of excellence in the Government’s recently published Life Sciences Vision.

Through further collaboration within the region and beyond, and new investment in the infrastructure needed for the region’s life sciences ecosystem to thrive, we can ensure the North continues to build on its successes and its critical contribution to the UK’s status as a global superpower.

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