Connecting and collaborating in the cluster

Connecting and collaborating in the cluster

12 Apr, 2017

By Dr Penny Owen

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What is the benefit of geographical collaboration in science? Dr Penny Owen, interim executive chair of Life Sciences Hub Wales, demonstrates how building local relationships can have a global impact.

Life sciences by its very nature is a collaborative discipline.

This is true in both a research and a business context, where collaborations are often more successful and have more impact than solo efforts due to the costs and complexities involved.

The Life Sciences Hub Wales exists to promote collaboration and partnership in the sector in Wales, bringing together academic, business, clinical and professional services and funding organisations.

But we are also keen to make links outside Wales and indeed, outside the UK, to ensure Welsh life sciences businesses and entrepreneurs can take advantage of global opportunities.

Regional collaboration

That’s why we are excited by the potential of working with other regional groups, such as the GW4 Alliance, which brings together four of the most research-intensive and innovative universities in the UK; the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

The Hub, both as an organisation and through its members, already has strong links with each of these institutions.

In fact one of our members, Cotton Mouton Diagnostics, is a successful spin-out of the universities of Exeter and Cardiff.

This South Wales start-up company was launched by academics turned entrepreneurs in 2014 to exploit major business opportunities in the field of point-of-care (PoC) diagnostics.

CMD first moved into the Hub, then expanded into the nearby GE Innovation Village and is now 24 months away from bringing its first product to market.

We want to encourage similar ventures as part of our mission to connect, inspire and accelerate.

Industrial strategy

Regional clusters for life sciences are important drivers of economic growth and catalysts for scientific advancement.

Both Life Sciences Wales and the GW4 Alliance acted as co-signatories on a response to the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, underlining “the importance of sustained commitment to life and health science clusters”.

This followed the Academy of Medical Sciences’ and Wellcome Trust’s FORUM meeting on Geographical Clusters, which enabled us to develop a vision of the future for regional clusters for life sciences.

Making connections worldwide

Regional clusters for life sciences are also proving successful across the UK and in other parts of the world.

One of the Hub’s first international agreements was the historic memorandum of understanding we signed with Sherbrooke Innopole, our equivalent body in Quebec, Canada, which itself is at the heart of a regional life sciences cluster.

The agreement has opened up valuable opportunities for life sciences companies in both countries that they would not have otherwise had.

Last summer we strengthened our overseas relationships by signing an international partnership agreement with four science parks and clusters – Sherbrooke Innopole, Inartis Foundation/Health Valley in Switzerland, LifeTechValley in Belgium and Medicon Village in Sweden.

The agreement, called Twins’ International MultiHelix, will benefit each organisation’s members by helping with investments and strengthening their work in an international setting.

The Hub is also a member of the Council of European BioRegions (CEBR), a network of life science clusters across Europe that has hundreds of cluster partners across the world.

CEBR exists to create a European platform for cluster-driven initiatives, to create a profile for European clusters on the world stage and to transform competitiveness into co-operation.

Such international co-operation and collaboration is invaluable for the future of our sector, inspiring and discovering new talent and opening up a world of new opportunities.

Dr Penny Owen is interim executive chair of the Life Sciences Hub Wales. She has more than 20 years’ experience of working in the life sciences sector, specifically in R&D, marketing and operations.