Location, Location, Location: The Key Ingredients for the Success of Cell and Gene Cluster Excellence and the Future of the Sector

Stevenage is rapidly establishing itself on the global map for cell and gene clustering excellence, with Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst at its heart. Here we look at the key ingredients for success, and what is next for the sector and future healthcare.

When it comes to Stevenage, the old adage of location, location, location has been key to growing a globally significant life sciences cluster. The recent EMEA Life Sciences Cluster Outlook 2023 identified Stevenage as a renowned hub for life sciences activity, on a par with other established European clusters with a world-leading specialism in cell and gene therapy.

The campus at Gunnels Wood Road hosts one of GSK’s two main global research and development facilities, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre and Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, a leading UK location for start-ups and established companies to develop and commercialise cutting edge therapeutics. This co-location of R&D and manufacturing facilities is unique within the Golden Research Triangle of Oxford-Cambridge-London. This enables companies to move from start-up to scale up to the development of potentially life-saving therapeutics.

Wrapped around this is a supportive and networked community created by Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC) fostering a vibrant ecosystem that brings together academics, biotech and pharma organisations within a sustainable environment. This spirit of collaboration enables organisations to connect and grow, offering support at every stage. The Lab Hotel, as part of SBC’s commitment to supporting fledgling start-ups, provides four organisations with rent-free space for six months and gives young companies access to mentoring and curates introductions to the right investors. The SBC Catalyser Programme, delivered in collaboration with Triple Chasm and Mindstream AI, utilises the latest data and digital technologies to support early-stage innovation and help tackle the challenges faced by fledging companies in translating ideas into viable products with commercial, social and environmental impact.

Dr Sally Ann Forsyth OBE, CEO, Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, said: “Stevenage has been very successful in translating research into better patient outcomes and potentially curative medicine, thanks to the strength of the collaboration between academia, government and private markets.

“The Catalyser Programme is a prime example of how we are constantly innovating our business model to stay ahead of changes in AI and Machine Learning, reflecting their importance to the biotech sector.”

This unique range of facilities; cell and gene specialism; access to talent and local training provision provided by the University of Hertfordshire and North Herts College’s Stevenage Innovation and Technology Centre (SITEC); connectivity to world-renowned research institutions; capital living as well as relative affordability are all key elements driving further investment into the sector.

UBS Asset Management and Reef Group have submitted plans to Stevenage Borough Council to transform the campus into one of the largest in Europe. The £900m campus will provide 1.6 million square feet of lab, office and GMP manufacturing facilities, with space for up to 5,000 new jobs. This will offer a world-class mix of life science spaces, bringing together international and UK businesses to create a globally renowned centre for R&D life science innovation. This, in turn, will connect Stevenage to other knowledge quarters such as King’s Cross which is home to cutting edge medical research centres such as The Francis Crick Institute, Wellcome Trust as well as UCL, Google and Catapult Digital. 

Meanwhile in the town centre, Autolus’ new Nucleus manufacturing facility has been delivered in a record 17 months by Merit construction, three years faster than the standard biotech industry standard of five years. This facility, which has the potential to deliver life-changing treatment for cancer patients, was brought forward thanks, in part, to the collaboration of supportive local stakeholders including the local planning authority, Stevenage Borough Council.

This ability to provide much needed growing on space for life science companies is also key together with access to affordable housing to help recruit and retain talent. Compared to the capital, Stevenage offers a more realistic proposition for first time buyers with easy accessibility to all that London has to offer.

Taken together, this consolidates Stevenage’s position as a world-leading cluster for life sciences and supports the UK’s ambition to be a ‘science superpower’, as evidenced by the Government’s £650m ‘Life Sci for Growth’ package. This raft of measures recognises the importance of an industry worth over £94bn with funding for manufacturing, skills and infrastructure, including the East-West Rail (EWR) which cuts an arc above Hertfordshire linking the two science powerhouses of Cambridge and Oxford. Stevenage is well placed to benefit.