Why next-generation cell and gene therapies are spurring demand for manufacturing space in key life science clusters.


Cluster Culture

Life sciences is a sector with longstanding clustering tendencies. The benefits of physical proximity, collaboration and knowledge-sharing are widely recognised both for collections of companies and constituent parts of the same firm. In a recent EY study, life sciences executives attributed 14.6% of revenues and 13.7% of cost savings to ecosystem involvement. EY also reported that the companies with the highest performing ecosystems added a further 1.7 times more to annual revenue and 2 times the incremental revenue growth.

And there are other ways of measuring the benefits. AstraZeneca recognised the R&D potential of locating in the Cambridge, UK ecosystem. Collaboration with some of the world’s best scientists was at the heart of that move, and the company now cites over 200 collaborations across the Cambridge ecosystem, 130 with Cambridge University alone. That’s quite a stark contrast to the 10 collaborations they had back in 2013 prior to their Cambridge move.

So, the benefits of R&D collaboration within the leading innovation ecosystems are unquestioned, but collaboration and partnering goes beyond R&D and is increasingly driving decisions for biomanufacturing as well. For instance, it was a huge part of the solutioning to meet the rapid scale-up demands involved in producing billions of covid vaccine doses within an unprecedented timescale.

Collaboration is key

In this respect, the pandemic has accelerated the development and commercialisation of the new vaccine manufacturing platforms, but their application is not limited to Covid-19. Cell and gene therapies leverage viral vector manufacturing platforms as do several vaccines, including the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

life-sciences-article-1With manufacturing demand for these next generation therapies at an all-time high and capacity limited, how can biopharma companies and growing biotechs benefit from locating their biomanufacturing in established R&D ecosystems or locating to access the capabilities already within them?
There are already several examples that provide useful pointers. The Stevenage Biosciences Catalyst (SBC) Campus showcases the potential here perfectly. Stevenage has established itself as one of the world’s largest cell and gene therapy clusters and attracts leading biotech companies in the field who are keen to access the strong scientific network, but also the manufacturing capabilities available within the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult.

One such company is Autolus Therapeutics, who leveraged manufacturing within the catapult as they developed their CAR-T cell therapy for cancer treatment. Now that they have progressed towards commercialisation, they are building their own 70,000 sq. ft manufacturing site, also in Stevenage, which will stay connected to the SBC campus. This gives Autolus the continuity advantage of accessing the manufacturing capabilities within the CGT until their own site is completed in 2023.

Pharma giant GSK are at the heart of the Stevenage ecosystem and are now also utilising the CGT catapult to accelerate their own cell and gene therapy pipeline. Such high-profile collaborations will serve to further enhance the reputation of Stevenage as a go-to destination for companies developing cell and gene therapies in the UK and beyond.

Oxford is another world leading R&D life sciences ecosystem that has seen significant development in advanced therapies and vaccine manufacturing in the last few years. Oxford Biomedica’s viral vector platform was extensively used in the manufacture of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, but they also had several partnerships to develop and manufacture cell and gene therapies. They now have several locations within Oxford including the state-of-the art Oxbox manufacturing facility. The UK government, in conjunction with academia and industry, built the soon-to-be-completed Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) on the Harwell campus in Oxford. They will focus on the strategic development of vaccines but will also offer a range of services to support vaccine development through to commercialisation.

It is therefore no surprise that growing start-ups, such as Oxford University spin out Vaccitech chose to stay in Oxford and locate their new 31,000 sq. ft R&D centre within the Harwell Campus. Leiden, in the Netherlands is another thriving R&D ecosystem, growing at pace. BMS recently announced plans to build their first European CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing site within Leiden Biosciences Park on land owned by Leiden University.

Leiden is already favoured by industry giants J&J, mid-size player Astellas, upcoming biotech Galapagos and others. BMS’s decision to locate their new, state of the art CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing close to Leiden University Medical Centre offers numerous collaboration advantages within the established knowledge networks.

Leiden is already favoured by industry giants J&J, mid-size player Astellas, upcoming biotech Galapagos and others. BMS’s decision to locate their new, state of the art CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing close to Leiden University Medical Centre offers numerous collaboration advantages within the established knowledge networks.

Real Estate solutions evolving

From a real estate perspective, what can we derive from these changes? The consequences are not limited to changes in the locational preferences of biomanufacturing but also include new routes to space procurement:

  • The location preferences for new manufacturing platforms follow an R&D model rather than traditional manufacturing, with accessing specialist talent and innovation key
  • The presence of accessible manufacturing capabilities further strengthens the appeal of even the most established R&D ecosystems, particularly for companies in later stages of therapeutic development
  • Long term leasing agreements and forward funding of next generation manufacturing sites within the established hubs is becoming more prevalent versus the traditional pharma ownership model
  • In Europe, we are already witnessing the early signs of cluster development, for both vaccine and cell and gene therapy manufacturing, in Stevenage, Oxford and Leiden

As the sector continues to grow and new therapies mature towards commercialisation, biomanufacturing demand is set to continue its growth trajectory.
Clustering within existing R&D hubs, although a shift for manufacturing, makes sense and offers numerous benefits around collaboration, knowledge access and capability building.

For the clusters themselves, it gives them an even greater opportunity to strengthen their offering versus alternative location options for advanced therapeutics.

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