In this issue of BioScience Today, we speak to Dr Glenn Crocker MBE, Chief Executive Officer of BioCity – the largest life science incubator business in the UK.

The lowdown on life science incubators

“A life science incubator can mean different things to different people,” explains Glenn. “There are several components that make up our business. Firstly, our team of skilled professionals from the life sciences, pharmaceutical and business sectors, who are on hand to enable the creation of new start-ups.

“As part of this activity, the team at BioCity regularly run an eight to ten-week business accelerator programme at each location with a cohort of five to ten of the start-ups companies in attendance, coaching them in entrepreneurial excellence, advising them on the likely routes to investment and how best to bring their products or services to the market.”

Mentors at the ready

“As well as our experienced in-house team, this accelerator programme is underpinned by an extensive network of over 200 leaders in the pharmaceutical and investment sectors, who are available at the end of the phone to mentor and advise these early-stage companies. Attendees benefit from this mentoring, and the network of businesses around them, from those learning alongside them to those in the broader BioCity community.

“In addition, BioCity provides around 325,000 sq ft of laboratories, a physical base where entrepreneurs, researchers and universities can find a home in which to start-up and grow their companies. Central laboratory facilities accessed on a pay-as-you-go basis include NMR and Mass Spectrometry. Having facilities that are fit for purpose from day one is a huge advantage for these companies.”

Investment opportunities

“The final facet of the business is that we not only advise but also provide crucial investment for promising start-ups. Some of the investment is provided by a joint venture with AstraZeneca, specifically to support early stage life science companies, whilst some of the investment comes from our own funds. We receive an income from the facilities we provide allowing us to make further investments.”

A joint enterprise

BioCity itself is jointly owned by Nottingham University, Nottingham Trent University and all of its staff. “It is one of the oldest and the most established companies that does what we do,” explains Glenn.

“Starting up a business is a difficult thing to do and it can be a very solitary thing, but we can make it much easier than would ever be the case if you were to do it on your own,” adds Glenn.

More than the sum of its parts

“The benefits of starting up a company in cohort with others, and as part of a broader life science community, can’t be underestimated. All of the companies here are together worth more than the sum of their parts. It’s amazing what goes on here on a daily basis and you simply wouldn’t have that if you were to set up a business alone.”

“However, businesses that have set up elsewhere, can still become a part of our community and benefit from our network,” adds Glenn.

Success over adversity

Originating in the disused former Boots (later BASF) facility at Pennyfoot Street in Nottingham, the site is most well-known as the laboratory in which Dr Stewart Adams discovered Ibuprofen. Yet its distinguished tradition of innovation continues today in a different way.

Founded as a result of the dilemma posed by the closure of the former research facility by the then owners BASF, BioCity has since grown to become by far the largest life science incubator in the UK and potentially in Europe too – which just goes to show that necessity can indeed be the mother of invention.

From Pennyfoot to further afield

BioCity is thriving at the Pennyfoot site and has expanded to such an extent that today it has five centres: two in Nottingham, two in Glasgow and one at Alderley Park. The sites are home to up and coming businesses, which benefit from having all of the facilities, expertise and contacts they need to hand, enabling them to thrive.

“Biocity has become a driving force for developing successful life science companies and it is now home to over 200 companies, employing thousands of people,” explains Glenn. These companies are diverse as BioCity welcomes those that specialise in biotechnology, life science products and diagnostics, contract research, medical devices and industrial biotechnology, and there are some notable examples within their alumni.

Incubator success stories

First up, Sygnature Discovery, which began with a team of just four people and has grown to employ over 200, including many chemists and biologists. They have become one of the leading medicinal chemistry companies in the UK and their mission is to accelerate the discovery and development of new medicines to treat patients with a range of debilitating and fatal diseases.

Such is their success that they’ve just moved into a new, dedicated building on the BioCity Nottingham site, a reflection of their achievement in delivering multiple drug candidates on client projects, currently there are 8 drug candidates in the clinic invented at Sygnature since 2011.

Targeted cancer treatment

Another company to watch is BiVictriX Therapeutics Ltd, a biotech firm founded in 2016, based at the Alderley Park site, which is focused on developing and licensing novel, highly-selective, bispecific Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) to target unmet medical need in blood cancer.

They’ve just been successful in securing funding to perform early Proof of Concept studies on BiVictriX’s Lead Candidate, a dual targeting ADC targeting Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Their work has the potential to see the development of a targeted treatment for cancer cells, which would avoid many of the side effects of existing treatments.

Timed drug release

A third notable example is BDD Pharma, a drug formulation and delivery company based at BioCity Glasgow, who have just raised investment to progress Oralogik™, their timed drug release technology, which could allow a drug to be taken once, orally, but which would be timed to release several times at different intervals.

This technology has the potential to revolutionise the way in which pain is managed in Rheumatoid Arthritis, for example, allowing a patient to take medication before they go to bed and wake up pain-free. These are just a few of the success stories that have emanated from the incubator, visit their website to find out more.

Life Science and the economy

The success of BioCity is an indication of the huge contribution that life science makes to the UK economy. As the government recently highlighted, the life sciences sector has enjoyed a record turnover of over £70 billion and significantly, SMEs account for 82% of these businesses and 24% of all UK life sciences employment – which underlines the importance of life science incubators in supporting new start-ups and SME’s.

From lab bench to business

Glenn has been at the helm for 15 years, almost from day one, becoming the very first employee of BioCity. He is almost uniquely placed to do what he does, with a DPhil in immunology from Oxford and a career that has encompassed both working at a lab bench and a career in business.

Qualifying as a chartered accountant, after a sojourn in a lab, Glenn worked with many biotech companies in California, before returning to the UK to head up the Biotech division of Ernst & Young in Cambridge, from which he was headhunted for his current role.

In 2014, Glenn received an MBE for services to the biotechnology industry, whilst Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr John Brown, received a CBE for services to science in 2011, in addition to his many other accolades.

In to the future

As for the future, BioCity is hoping to expand both at the sites at which they currently operate; and at other key locations around the country. Hand in hand with this, they plan to increase their investment in start-up companies – at which they have proven very successful – facilitating further investment, in more new life science companies in the future.

“Early stage companies are a massive source of innovation,” observes Glenn and that being the case, it will be fascinating to see what innovations emerge from the incubator next – we’ll have to wait and see.