Life science sector poised for growth in the North East

June 1, 2020

Last year saw the completion of a new purpose-built laboratory facility on Newcastle Helix, with 13 dynamic life science businesses now calling it home. The life sciences sector is in the limelight like never before, with some of our region’s best talent and minds coming together to help with the UK and global effort against COVID-19. As we look toward the recovery of our economy, our region’s strengths in life sciences look to play a more critical role

A place to innovate, grow and improve lives.

The Biosphere is a high-quality building dedicated to the commercialisation of life sciences and is part of the city’s commitment to growing the sector.

This award-winning building is changing the shape of the sector, creating jobs, supporting graduate retention, and raising the profile of Newcastle as a hotspot for life sciences.

The building has also been capturing the attention of international clusters with a life sciences delegation from Cuba and the British Deputy High Commissioner Chennai, India visiting the facility late last year. Invest Newcastle was also part of a delegation promoting the UK’s life science sector at BioJapan, Asia’s premier partnering event for the global biotechnology industry – putting Newcastle’s strengths in front of global investors.

Some of the first companies to move into The Biosphere were Iksuda Therapeutics, NorthGene, Jiahua, MDNA Life Sciences, ExplantLab, Alcyomics, Atelerix, NewChem, BiBerChem and Demuris. They were joined late last year by Biosignatures and Cognassist.

Dr David Bramwell, chief technical officer at Biosignatures says: “We chose The Biosphere due to the great laboratory facilities, central location and high concentration of local biosciences organisations, which bring opportunities for investment and collaboration. Having grown up in the North East, I also know that there is a large pool of high-quality individuals graduating at numerous excellent universities, which makes the area perfect for developing a stable business.”

More recently, Newcells Biotech accelerated its move into the facility and managed to fully equip and commission its operations even during the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. The company occupies 500m2 of laboratories and offices, choosing the location because of its high- quality facilities, central location which is ideal for customer and staff access, and co-location to world class biomedical institutions.

Newcells Biotech develops in vitro, cell based assays for drug discovery and development.

Dr Mike Nicholds, chief executive officer at Newcells Biotech, says: “We are delighted to have moved into the Biosphere, which for us has come at an ideal time. As we all come to terms with the extraordinary and rapidly changing global situation caused by COVID-19, the high-quality laboratories and exceptional office space available at the Biosphere, allows our staff to continue working safely, while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“The new laboratory facilities will also help us to continue to innovate, grow our business and join the scores other life sciences companies that form part of the Newcastle Helix cluster.”

The Biosphere provides the much-needed infrastructure and business support that growing life science businesses, ambitious entrepreneurs and academics need to commercialise their products and new discoveries.

An ecosystem of support

It’s been a busy 12 months for The Biosphere and for the tenants that call it home. Since moving in, Northgene has doubled the size of its office space; MedTech company ExplantLab has secured nearly £250,000 in funding from Innovate UK to further its research into the impact of genetics on implants; and Atelerix closed a third round of funding of £600,000 to build additional capability to capitalise upon the unique set of features of its technology, to transport therapeutic cells in the fast-growing cell therapy market. Funding is essential to support early-stage ideas and to take research forward.

Meanwhile, the building has also catalysed the creation of new events, meet-ups and accelerator programmes, not only to support tenants but to act as a physical centre-point for the regional bioscience economy. This ‘cluster effect’ is helping to grab the attention of new and growing businesses, supply chains and investors – particularly as the life sciences community becomes more connected.

These include co-hosting a business pitching event with BioNow, giving tenants the opportunity to pitch ideas and hear about the latest technologies and innovations available from some of the leading companies in the North.

The Biosphere will continue to deliver a series of themed business events that are relevant for individuals working in the sector to gain useful insights and advice.

Schemes like the Northern Accelerator are also supporting the commercialisation of research within our regional universities, with a significant proportion of this expected to be in the biosciences sectors. The Biosphere is positioning itself as the obvious new home for these businesses as they spin out of academic institutions.

What’s next?

Invest Newcastle promotes Newcastle and Gateshead as a place for businesses to locate and grow and the team has been looking at the challenges, opportunities, and possible trends for a post-COVID-19 economy. It is promising that predicted trends for sector growth align with our region’s strengths in life science, AI, big data, and tech.

The life science sector has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, supporting the rapid development of a potential vaccine, research, testing and diagnostics to support the treatment of the disease – some of which is being delivered in the North East.

Matt Bratton, senior investment manager at Invest Newcastle, says: “The Biosphere filled a historic gap in the supply of commercial laboratory space in Newcastle. The purpose-built facility introduced clear grow-on space for early-stage businesses and university spin-outs, but also provides a flexible option for more established companies.

“The Biosphere’s physical infrastructure and support services will be a key component in growing the local life sciences economy – and it acts a signal of confidence for the region. Many of our existing regional capabilities in diagnostics and testing have proven valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we see companies at various stages of the pathway to adoption here in Newcastle. With an increase in Government funding to support new innovations and research, we will start to see more life science spin-outs, as they develop new products and services across a broad range of areas. The Biosphere stands ready to offer these company a home.”

The spirit of innovation is really alive in Newcastle, and the range and quality of the biosciences happening in The Biosphere will play a vital role in further enhancing our global reputation as a hotspot for life sciences.

The Biosphere has secured significant funding through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014- 2020 and the Government’s Local Growth Deal through the North East LEP. Both funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations.

The Biosphere
If you are a life science business looking for a new home, email or call 0191 580 6150

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