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Life sciences industry panel to grow Herts key sector and deliver nationwide benefits

Published: 29 April 2022Stevenage life sciences clusterGrowing a cell and gene therapy cluster

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A new life sciences industry panel has been convened by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to drive forward actions that will deliver sustained sector growth, improved health outcomes and a huge economic uplift for the county and across the UK.

The panel, which met for the first time on Thursday 21 April, comprises representatives from across the county’s burgeoning life sciences sector including:

The panel is chaired by Hertfordshire LEP Board Member Dianne Lee, managing director for regulatory affairs consultancy DLRC. The company is based in Letchworth Garden City and works globally with clients and regulators.

In July last year, a report commissioned by Hertfordshire LEP set out how the county’s globally significant cell and gene therapy cluster can sustain its momentum and be a catalyst for UK life sciences growth.

Produced by SQW, the report provides an overview of life sciences in Hertfordshire and the key factors that have led to the development and growth of the cell and gene therapy cluster over time, including the role of big pharma, the availability of a skilled workforce, major locational advantages and a targeted series of interventions and investments.

The report also explores the cluster’s current limitations and barriers to growth, and sets out a range of critical interventions needed to drive future expansion.

Following publication of Hertfordshire’s Cell and Gene Therapy Cluster 2021, the LEP has engaged in a series of 1:1s with industry experts to help shape an Action Plan.

This sets out six key outcomes to be led by the private sector with a shared commitment from partners in Hertfordshire – the LEP, the Growth Board, Hertfordshire County Council and the district/borough councils. These outcomes are:

  1. A reliable supply of talent, aligned to the changing needs of both the life sciences sector and cell and gene therapy cluster
  2. Appropriate sources of early stage business support and finance
  3. International profile and visibility, particularly for the cell and gene cluster in Hertfordshire
  4. Strong levels of networking within and beyond Hertfordshire
  5. Effective commercial property solutions
  6. Effective digital infrastructure solutions aligned to the sector and cell and gene therapy cluster’s needs.

The Industry Panel will meet around four times a year and it will focus solely on delivering the Action Plan, calling in key delivery partners, as required. The plan is designed to be dynamic, responding to the needs of the industry and attuned to market demands.

The LEP has invested in additional resources to support this activity with the creation of a new life sciences sector / cell and gene therapy cluster lead post.  While private sector investment drives the sector’s growth, additional Government funding will also be sought to ensure that the value of the cell and gene therapy cluster, in particular to UK science, is fully realized.

Hertfordshire has attracted major inward investors in life sciences in recent years – such as Eisai in Hatfield and Pharmaron in Hoddesdon – while companies like Smith and Nephew (near Watford) and Roche in (Welwyn Garden City) continue to have a significant presence and span both medtech and biopharma. Just recently Autolus, an advanced therapy medicinal product company, has spun out of the Bioscience Calalyst into Stevenage town centre with a brand new £65m manufacturing facility.

Cell and gene therapy is now one of the fastest-growing health and life sciences in the world, contributing around £74bn to the UK economy and a quarter of a million jobs per year. Stevenage is at the heart of this growth and has been designated a High Potential Opportunity location for cell and gene and a Life Sciences Opportunity Zone by Government.  In the last two years, total private equity investment in biotechnology raised in Stevenage has been similar to that of Cambridge, Oxford and London.

This exponential growth and scale of investment Is driving demand for scientific and technical skills.  According to a 2021 UK Cell and Gene Therapy Skills Demand Survey Report, the forecast skills demand nationwide for 2026 is 10,000 bioprocessing jobs, a growth of 151% from today. It states that ‘there is an urgent need to prioritise skills provision to continue the substantial growth of UK companies and for the UK to be a global leader in advanced medicine manufacturing’.

Hertfordshire LEP’s Life Sciences Industry Panel Chair Dianne Lee said: “The life sciences sector and the cell and gene therapy cluster are among the most dynamic parts of both the local and UK economy. Hertfordshire has a critical role to play in driving future growth by ensuring that it has the appropriate sites and premises, improving the provision of workforce skills and providing a genuinely world class digital infrastructure.

The Action Plan charts a clear route forward and will help us to deliver our vision for improved health and economic outcomes for Hertfordshire and across the UK.”

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth OBE, CEO of SBC, said, “We are delighted to be involved with the new Life Sciences Industry Panel which will provide an exciting forum for life sciences organisations across the county who are ambitious for the continued growth of this already globally-recognised cluster. We look forward to working together to deliver the action plan which will strengthen our local life sciences ecosystem at every level, from developing the talent needed by the industry to making sure companies have the right access to finance, accommodation, infrastructure and support to ensure they thrive.”

Professor Darragh Murnane, Associate Dean (Enterprise) for Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire said: “The University has a sustained history of partnership with the life sciences industry, both for internationally-leading R&D and for developing industry-ready graduates. We are delighted to be members of the Sciences Industry Panel that will oversee the delivery of Hertfordshire LEP’s action plan for sustained growth of the globally recognised clusters for Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products, pharmaceuticals and medical technologies. As a University Enterprise Zone, we are excited for the opportunity to take a leadership role in workforce development, enhancing delivery of advanced skills training for industry, and supporting our local innovation and industrial ecosystem”.

The Action Plan forms part of a suite of strategic statements spearheaded by the LEP and its partners, to set the course for Hertfordshire’s economic recovery. These include:

The Life Sciences Sector and the Cell and Gene Therapy Cluster Action Plan is set to be published later in May.