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100 Life Sciences Showcase - We talk to Philip Campbell from Milton Park and Claus Andersen from Freeths

The Business Magazine article image for: 100 Life Sciences Showcase - We talk to Philip Campbell from Milton Park and Claus Andersen from Freeths
6 May 2022

It shouldn’t have taken a global health crisis to reveal how critical the UK’s highly successful life sciences sector is to humankind, but it did.

The global health crisis has seen the life sciences sector thriving across the UK like never before.

This has been helped by investor confidence in the sector’s ability to find ways to improve the health of humankind, which has helped fund a rapid advancement of new innovations.

Central to this success has been a healthy collaboration between researchers, scientists and experienced professionals located in geographical UK clusters, supported by an efficient ecosystem.

And one of the UK’s most successful life sciences ecosystems is based across Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley.

During much of the Covid-19 pandemic, Oxfordshire was in the global news – thanks in no small part to the fast development of the highly successful Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

Since then hundreds of UK life science companies have contributed to the global effort to diagnose and eradicate the virus.

This success has led to an even greater awareness of the region’s thriving life sciences ecosystem – and a wider investment appetite for life sciences companies than ever before.

And that’s the key – scientific endeavour is a costly business and it can take years for a scientific breakthrough to become an overnight success.

While celebrating the higher profile life sciences are currently enjoying, Claus Andersen, a partner in the life sciences group at law firm Freeths, which has an office in Oxford, points out that the county’s ecosystem was well-established years before the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Experienced life science investors understand that research and development take time and money, and they are prepared to wait,” he said.

It was a 2016 investment in the technology of the Oxford vaccine team, led by Dr Sarah Gilbert, a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, and in their Covid-19 vaccines since March 2020, that paved the way for approval by the UK’s independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

“The Oxford team was able to respond fast to the Covid-19 crisis because they had already invested in years of research and testing vaccines for previous Covid outbreaks,” said Claus.

“While there is major potential for financial returns, new investors unfamiliar with the sector need to recognise that these may not come straight away.”

Faster drug approvals could drive more investment...

According to Philip Campbell, Commercial Director at Milton Park near Abingdon, the country’s largest single ownership science community, the UK’s rapid Covid-19 vaccine roll-out was helped significantly by the pragmatic way in which the MHRA reviewed clinical data on a rolling basis.

Claus Andersen Partner in Freeth’s Life Sciences group agrees “The MHRA was able to approve the vaccine in more timely fashion and this has perhaps opened people’s eyes on how, in future, this could be done quicker in related areas. Preparing for Brexit forced the MHRA to act independently. The Covid outbreak focused their minds on how to do it successfully.”

Philip added: “The prospect of faster approvals also has the potential to drive further investment in the sector, not least because investors will see the potential for shorter exit timeframes.”

Oxfordshire has more than 25,000 people employed in life sciences and healthcare, representing more than five per cent of the population, according to Oxfordshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership.

Great science starts with an idea or a theory...

Great science starts with an idea, or a theory. This must be researched, developed and tested, which takes appropriate lab space, qualified scientists and the informed and active support of the professional sector.

Philip has been a passionate supporter of the life science sector since he joined Milton Park in 2006.

His understanding of the unique requirements of such companies has helped many life sciences start-ups grow into some of the park’s most successful tenants which employ hundreds of people and occupy labs purpose-built in new buildings constructed by Milton Park.

There are around 250 companies on Milton Park, 47 per cent of its rental income is generated by life sciences and healthcare companies.

Philip said: “I feel privileged to work alongside, and in a small way support, many amazing companies and people in the sector.

“I get a real buzz when I hear about milestones reached. Whether it’s Immunocore’s recent USA Food and Drug Administration approval for KIMMTRAK, or Oxitec’s recent USA Environmental Protection Agency approval, it makes me proud of the great things going on at Milton Park.”

But start-ups can seldom afford all the in-house expertise they need to get going.

Claus added: “Many young companies outsource functions such as regulation compliance and IP advice as these areas are complex and can de-risk their growth. Oxfordshire has an experienced legal and accountancy sector which understands the particular issues that life sciences companies face, not only when they are establishing themselves, but as they grow.

“When I’m drafting a document for a life sciences client, I can look at the outcomes they want to achieve thanks to my detailed working knowledge of the sector. The more you know about a sector, the more you can adapt and focus your advice.”

Life sciences companies look outside London...

The pandemic, and the success of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and other science innovations, has also given overseas companies the confidence to look beyond London when they are seeking to establish themselves in the UK.

Claus has advised many overseas companies on setting up in the UK. “Businesses looking to establish themselves in the UK now recognise the innovation that’s going on further afield and are recognising the capabilities of the eco-systems supporting them in many parts of the UK, particularly in Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and other places.”

Life sciences sector growth has it challenges...

However, this fast growth in the UK’s life sciences sector doesn’t come without its own challenges, and one of those is lab and office space.

Last year the government published its new life sciences vision, setting a path for the UK to build on its pandemic response. It hopes that the 10-year strategy for the sector will help solve some of the biggest healthcare problems of our generation, including cancer and dementia.

“Suddenly life sciences has become fashionable within the real estate sector, and we are seeing many new players rushing in. I worry that some of them don’t have the expertise our life sciences companies need,” Philip added.

“The decision for Milton Park to support technology, and life sciences in particular, was made way back in 1988, which is why we’re so well set up for the sector as we can build on 30 years of experience.”

That also goes for the region’s life sciences professional support network.

Claus added: “Our greatest challenge is to maintain our pre-eminence and it’s essential that the quality of support from experienced professionals already based in the region is maintained.”

Other countries are already staking their own claim in the global life sciences sector, he added. “Take Denmark, my home country. Historically its biggest exports were dairy and Danish bacon.

“Life sciences has overtaken them. You see the same in Sweden and other countries. In November 2017, the EU Member States decided to relocate the European Medicines Agency from London to Amsterdam, because of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”

“Our life sciences sector must avoid complacency. What we are doing at Freeths is about continually adding value. It’s not only about providing a really good service, but also maintaining and improving our understanding of the sector, recognising the potential impact of new innovations coming through and supporting the companies behind them.”

Philip agrees. “The commercial momentum behind the region’s life sciences sector is vast. We are playing our part by continuing to invest in the ecosystem at Milton Park. And that means investing in the provision of space for smaller companies as well as larger ones, because if they know they are welcome and supported, that will help the larger companies in terms of their innovation pipeline.”

Two years ago Milton Park published its 2040 vision, which has proved particularly accurate in predicting changing work patterns.

“Our 2040 vision identified that people wanted to work less 9-5 and more flexibly,” said Philip.

“Our masterplan set out how we plan to grow sustainably from 9,000 to 20,000 people working here in the next 20 years or so. The pandemic has accelerated the pace towards our vision of a much greater proportion of science and technology companies based at the Park.”

Attracting the right people: The biggest challenge of all...

One of the biggest problems currently faced by many sectors, and life sciences is no exception, is getting the right people, said Claus. “And I don’t mean just top scientists, but all those right up the support chain. Which is why Oxfordshire’s ecosystem remains strong compared to others in the country.

“We currently face a huge and desperate migration of people from Ukraine and other regions facing geo-political challenges. Oxford is a very welcoming place, and it needs to remain that way. The region is already building thousands of new homes in areas where they will be more affordable. Many of these migrants are skilled people, and we can offer them opportunities to help them build successful careers, benefit them and their families as well as the global life sciences sector. Ultimately it could help them rebuild their lives back home.”

A thriving life sciences cluster is a draw for talent, Philip said. “A few years ago, I was returning from an event in London. When I got off the train and on to the Milton Park bus, I chatted with a man who had travelled from Kent.

“He was up for an interview, and wasn’t just looking at his next career step but future opportunities too. He was prepared to relocate to the area because of the raft of other great companies here.”

Oxfordshire and much of the Thames Valley lies within the UK’s Golden Triangle of economic growth and innovation.

With top universities, a thriving life sciences ecosystem, world-class facilities and a commitment from the region’s local government to build thousands of new homes, it’s not surprising that it is one of Europe’s most successful life sciences clusters. Who wouldn’t want to work here?

About Our Sponsors...

Claus Andersen

Claus Andersen

Claus is a Partner in Freeth’s Life Sciences group. He specialises in all aspects of corporate and commercial work with a particular focus on mergers and acquisitions, shareholder agreements, joint ventures, licensing agreements and regulatory advice to the life sciences and technology sector.

Claus has advised businesses from Scandinavia, Central and Western Europe, Asia and the USA on investing in the UK


Philip Campbell

Philip Campbell

Philip is the Commercial Director at Milton Park, the largest single ownership science community in the UK. A chartered surveyor, he joined the team in 2006 and has been instrumental in the continuing improvement of Milton Park to meet the evolving accommodation needs of the hundreds of companies based there. Life sciences companies, which make up almost half of the businesses based at the Park, are of particular interest to Philip, and he has helped many of them adapt their workspace facilities to meet their growing needs.

Alongside his role at Milton Park, Philip is a Director of Didcot First, an organisation supporting the town’s business and community. He also sits as one of two external members on the University of Oxford Strategic Capital Steering Group and is a member of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s (OxLEP) Enterprise Zone Sub Group.

This feature has been published inside our May Issue of Business & Innovation Magazine in association with Freeths and Milton Park.

To see the feature in print, read our latest edition online.

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