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Britain and China breathe life into the life sciences

20 November 2019


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We were tremendously proud and excited to sponsor the 2019 OBN Awards in Oxford this month. The awards celebrated the best of UK life sciences, a sector that is flourishing in the UK with a record turnover of more than £70 billion. The winners on the night included the likes of Grey Wolf Therapeutics, a drug discovery biotechnology company from Oxford.

There are now more than 5,000 life science companies in the UK that provide jobs for almost 241,000 people. In 2017 the UK received more life science foreign investment projects than any other country in Europe.

A reason why British biotech companies are so successful is because of the UK’s higher education and research strengths. We have 4.1% of the world’s researchers and several of the world’s top universities, whose academics collaborate with the commercial sector. Increasingly life sciences companies are choosing to locate themselves in ‘urban innovation districts’ alongside higher education institutions.

It’s important to note that the UK government has also been highly supportive. In 2017 government spend on health R&D was the highest in Europe, and in 2018 a UK Life Sciences Council was launched with the involvement of government and industry leaders. Its purpose is to ensure the UK continues to be a global leader in life sciences.

New UK-China collaborations

Increasingly there is interest in the UK’s life sciences sector from China, where biotech is making big advances. BeiGene and Nanjing Legend are just two examples documented in the media of Chinese companies making an impact.                          

As with other sectors, there are growing collaborations between the UK and China, and they don’t come much bigger than AstraZeneca. The pharmaceuticals giant this month agreed a partnership with China International Capital Corporation (CICC) to create a $1 billion Healthcare Industrial Fund.

Smaller organisations are collaborating too. Oxford Drug Design for example won a UK-China grant to discover and develop small molecule drugs. It will do this in partnership with Huazhong Agricultural University and Wuhan HVSEN Biotechnology Co Ltd., as well as with the University of Portsmouth.

Earlier in the year, ReNeuron, a cell-based therapeutics company based in Wales, struck an exclusive license agreement worth £80 million with Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group through subsidiary Fosun Pharma. The collaboration will contribute to the strategic leading position of Fosun Pharma in China by fully funding the development of ReNeuron’s stroke related treatment and blindness therapy programmes.

In yet another example from 2019, UK and China research partners will work together on new CEPAMS projects such as the exploration of anti-cancer properties in plants.

Agreements last year involved Medopad and China Resources Guokang (Shanghai) Pharmaceutical Co, the University of Manchester and Peking University Health Science Center and Congenica and Digital China Health, to name just a few.

How we can help

At James Cowper Kreston we have significant experience of working with life science companies at all stages of their journey. Such companies will be typically far longer pre-revenue than other technology based companies. They will have significant third party investment; may have opportunities for collaborations/joint ventures and the trajectory for growth can be rapid.

If you are interested in hearing more about our expertise in the life sciences sector, and what we can offer you, please contact us and we will get back to you.