Health and life sciences the hidden gem of the Midlands economy

The last 12 months has highlighted the importance of health and life sciences businesses.

In the Midlands the sector already contributes £20.5 billion to the regional GVA and is responsible for nearly 600,000 jobs, but it is still a hidden gem, why is that?

That’s the question which the session Health and Life Sciences: An Untold Midlands Story at Invest Midlands, chaired by Dr Darren Clark from the Midlands Engine Health Board and CEO of Medilink East Midlands, looked to answer.

Alex Toft, head of Minerva Business Angels started by noting that the region is almost “virgin territory” in respects of investment. despite having all the capabilities to create a successful life sciences cluster, including world leading universities and NHS trusts, manufacturing strengths, connectivity and funding through the like of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.

Hilary Farming, director of research development & innovation at the University of Birmingham added that it’s not just these components parts that are important but also the “human element”. She explained how if you invest you typically need to bring more people into the area with you and she highlighted that Midlands has a lot to offer people, from jobs through to good schools and an enviable the cultural offering, but also a young population that offers “real vibrancy”.

Dr Glen Crocker MBE DPhil, director of We are Pioneer Group and head of life sciences at JLL added that if the region is looking to make more of the sector in its economic future, then it has to create an environment that “makes the most of the strong research base” that exists here and encourages and enables more “well-funded spinouts from the universities”.

Crocker highlighted that in the period of 2010-2014 Oxford University had 13 life sciences spin outs, Cambridge had eight and Nottingham, Leicester, Birmingham and Warwick together had nine – noting therefore it was fairly equal.

He however also highlighted in the next four year period, 2014-2018, the view was very different, the collective number of spin outs from the Midlands universities stayed at nine, while Oxford saw 28 and Cambridge 25.

“So Oxford and Cambridge were really taking off”, he noted before highlighting that in those four years Oxford got the £700m Oxford Science Innovation Fund and Cambridge launched a £250m+ Cambridge Innovation Capital Fund, and nothing of scale happened in the Midlands.

He concluded although cause and effect are difficult to prove, “the fact you’ve got this huge pot of money, that is a draw and it encourages the development of spin outs”. So the opportunity for Crocker is clear there could be three times as many spinouts coming out of the region’s universities than they have now – a “huge opportunity”.

Dr Faz Chowdhury, CEO Nemaura Medical Inc added to what Crocker said by explaining he believes regions “need to make life as easy as possible for new start-ups”. He believes the region needs to nurture more start-ups and incubate more ideas by providing a support structure that can do that, which he believes would reap rewards in the “long-term as opposed to immediate impacts”.

The economic opportunity for healthcare in the Midlands is clearly vast, with 10% of all the UK’s biological science research power (as measured in the Research Excellence Framework) is based in the Midlands. This makes it roughly the same as in the East of England region, however life sciences investment into the Midlands last year was 0.5% of the UK total versus the East of England which received 29% of the UK total – circa £10m vs £480m.

Clark concluded: “Based on the amout of investment in comparison, the Midlands has done really well with all its successes in the sector, so just imagine what we could do with that much more funding.”

View the full session below:

Invest Midlands is a one-day virtual conference bringing together business and policy leaders to set the agenda for what comes next in the region.

The event has been curated by and backed by a broad coalition of organisations spanning the public and private sectors, led by EY, Shakespeare Martineau, Lloyds Bank, and Impact Data Metrics.

Find out more about the event here.

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