Tony Jones, CEO, One Nucleus

Whilst the recent past has been one of huge uncertainty with regards to the political and economic landscape across the globe, the past year saw major success in Life Sciences & Healthcare across the Eastern region.

Record levels of venture investment, corporate deals, property investment and product development success suggest Life Sciences and Medical Technology research institutions and businesses are thriving. There remain concerns and challenges in maintaining this momentum absolutely, but when one considers factors such as: the strengths that have led to a track record of success; the changes within biomedical research driven by technology and demographics; and increasing collaborative spirit across local government boundaries, then the reasons to be optimistic are manifold.

The region has been at the forefront of emerging fields such as Precision Medicine, Genomics, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning, Advanced Manufacturing, Nutrition & Wellbeing and Medical Robotics as they have emerged from academic theory to practical application. These fields and disciplines are increasingly converging as we seek to not only develop new medicines, but to engage in ever earlier diagnoses for example. Harnessing the power of advances in areas such as genomics, electronic health records and imaging requires integration of vast pools of data, effective data science strategies and a modern NHS infrastructure. There is always room for improvement, but looking at NHS beacons such as Addenbrookes, Papworth and the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, all integrating with primary care across the region, then it is easy to see how the required data pools to enable evidence-based healthcare delivery are feasible.

When one considers the source of inventions and insight that continue to challenge the status quo in disease understanding and treatment, then much like the clinical centres of excellence, one doesn’t travel far between world class research institutions. Commitment to investing in critical research base initiatives such as the Quadram Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus and Babraham Research Campus has rendered the region one of the hottest locations for academic research. The Centre for Advanced Manufacturing together with major stakeholders such as Hethel Innovation, TWI and BT of course enable the engineering into the sector to strengthen the offer considerably. Norwich Research Park continues to develop as a hub to attract entrepreneurs, investors and corporate partners engaged in forming and growing new businesses that are translating this excellent science into new products and services to benefit patients.

It is not all about new medicines and devices. Much is spoken and written about what emerging challenges such as changing demographics, costs of healthcare and anti-microbial resistance mean for future health and wellbeing. Our region is primed to play a leading role on these aspects much like it has in the past centuries of addressing vital challenges. A key demographic shift is the ageing population. Through better nutrition, medicines and living standards, we are living longer. Ultimately, it is not simply life-span that we need to consider perhaps, but health-span if citizens are to have as good a quality of life throughout as possible.

Technology is changing faster than at any time in history. Wearable technology for example, is facilitating the collection of ever more comprehensive data on health status, disease monitoring and adherence to prescribed medications. Never has the biopharma industry had access to such Real World Data. Data in itself is not the key however, it is what can be done with the data that is important in order to provide knowledge and evidence. The increased Real World Evidence doesn’t just apply to humans. Surveillance technology to monitor the spread of pathogens and microbiome studies to explore the relationship between a person and their gut flora are two areas that complement medical research and contribute to our understanding of what creates and maintains a suitable ecosystem to enable wellbeing. Much the same can be said of advances in agricultural technology and the food supply chain. Greater traceability, improved food standards and yield as well as environmentally sustainable production methods all have a potentially major impact on health and wellbeing. Research excellence in these areas via centres such as the Earlham Institute and John Innes Centre adds to the region’s power to investigate, inform and influence how we balance health, environment and economics in the future.

Exerting the potential influence and economic impact of these different but complementary research fields is in no small way enabled by the region’s ability to attract and retain suitably world class talent in the non-scientific disciplines such as entrepreneurship, finance, patents and legal. The highly developed ecosystem for translating science into business is a key factor in ensuring advances reach their market. Sustained government investment in research excellence and its infrastructure is vital if the region is to continue to lead, attracting the best possible talent across all required disciplines. Anything that suggests not investing in the ‘brand leader’ perhaps should be approached with caution.

The region is also fortunate to have a series of long-standing and collaborative industry networks such as One Nucleus, Cambridge Network, CW, AgriTech East and Cambridge CleanTech. These organisations, usually funded by member subscription rather than public money, can be effective conduits to the emerging regional government created initiatives such as the UK Innovation Corridor and Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor that aim to bring local boroughs and councils together in order to join the regional dots. The interdisciplinary requirement in future success, the need for scale and the need to accommodate growth suggest such cross-regional coordination must be beneficial. If not to attract businesses into the connecting spaces in the short to medium term, the connectivity, infrastructure and potential to create suitable commuting possibilities for those attracted to work in the existing centres of excellence is a very practical and necessary achievement if we are not to stifle success in the region.

A sign of others confidence in our region are the major investments and corporate deals into businesses here. There has been well in excess of £1Bn of private capital poured into the region over the past year and a half. Whether collaborations such as Microbiotica’s with Genentech, Mission Therapeutics with Abbvie and Crecsendo Biologics with Takeda or the significant financing events by CMR Surgical, Artios, Acacia Therapeutics or Nasdaq IPO’s by e.g. Bicycle Therapeutics, there are numerous signs of the maturing asset and company pipeline in the cluster. This in turn has driven confidence in real estate players also where we have seen very exciting investments from UK, USA, Asia and Europe into science parks and facilities.

Discovering new medicines and devices, changing behaviour to improve public health and aligning local competitor regions for a greater good has always been challenging. Persistence, creativity and dealing with regulatory change are common characteristics among researchers, entrepreneurs and their investors. It is now encouraging to see such characteristics in our local government bodies and policy makers. A coming together of such attitudes, desire and common vision across public and private sectors perhaps indicates the future is very bright for the East of England, UK. It will be an exhilarating journey to a part of!