Lack of lab space threatens life science boom in Oxford and Cambridge

The Oxford and Cambridge science groups currently have almost no available laboratory space for rent, according to new property data, raising concerns about the UK’s ability to capitalize on the growth of interest in its life sciences sector.

Investor groups and CEOs have warned that the crisis in lab space in the so-called ‘Oxford-Cambridge Arch’ is now driving companies to cities like Boston in the US, where millions of square feet are immediately available.

Data collected by Bidwells, a property consultancy focused on the Oxbridge knowledge economy, showed that availability in both cities was near zero in June, after nearly a quarter of demand in the first half of this year.

Bidwells research director Sue Foxley said the shortage is worse than it used to be, and many companies are being forced to lease offices and other commercial space before making repairs as laboratories.

“The government has grand ambitions to turn Britain into a scientific superpower, but the Oxford-Cambridge arc is at risk of falling victim to the rise of its own meteorite, with the unicorns of tomorrow increasingly running out of mission-critical R&D space ,” He said.

Alexis Dormandy, chief executive of Oxford Science Enterprises, a £1bn investment company that partners with the University of Oxford to develop life science companies, said that the OSE Group has invested 55,000 sq ft to guarantee capacity for its launch. invested in setting up his own laboratory space. -UPS. But the current shortage of laboratories was impacting the ability of smaller institutions to scale up.

“On the positive side, investment in the life sciences is growing 35 percent a year – around Oxford 50 percent – but we need to find innovative ways to invest in new laboratory capacity to keep up with that demand.”

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Business groups said the chronic shortage of space has raised questions about the government’s strategy to grow the life sciences sector, where big names such as AstraZeneca, Apple and Microsoft have gathered around Oxford and Cambridge.

In February it emerged that Boris Johnson’s government had shelved a strategic plan to create a British rival to Silicon Valley around Oxford and Cambridge because it did not line up with the government’s ‘leveling up’ agenda.

The move has attracted criticism, including from former chancellor Philip Hammond, who warned that plans to flatten the north should not be prioritized at the expense of high-growth areas such as Oxford and Cambridge.

“The Oxford-Cambridge Arch may be a driver of prosperity across the UK, but the government needs to facilitate this development through a planning system, not suppress it, as this does not fit with the dogma of raising its level.” ,” They said.

More lab space is coming on stream, according to Bill Kane, president of UK and east coast markets at BioMed Realty, which last year pledged an £850mn investment to double the size of its UK portfolio.

“The Oxford-Cambridge Arch is one of the most productive and innovative regions in the world . . . However, future innovation and development will be limited without physical infrastructure,” he said.

In the interim, CEOs of life science businesses are warning that the UK will lose out to the US, where Boston alone had about 6 million square feet of laboratory space under construction in 2021.

Mark Cotter, founder of Cambridge-based cell technology company BitBio, said individual US states were better at risk for developers creating a steady flow of lab space.

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“The UK is very good at weeding out small start-ups, but not very good at building out large ones. Most leave and are sold, and one reason for this is the infrastructure that is not provided for these companies. has been,” he said.

The Trade Department said it was investing in science R&D capacity through an infrastructure fund and was committed to increasing total UK R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP – or £22bn a year – by 2027.

“Only last month we announced approximately £500mn to provide world-class lab space to help unlock the full potential of UK researchers,” a spokesperson said.

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