The United Kingdom: Leading the Global Competition for Biotech

The UK has been successful in attracting investors and nurturing organic growth of start-up operations.
Sep 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 9

James L. Kupferer, Jr
As a company that performs site selection for biopharmaceutical companies worldwide, Fluor Global Location Strategies has witnessed one country truly distinguishing itself from the competition as a worldwide leader in the industry: the United Kingdom. The global competition for biotech investments has been at a fever pitch over the past few years, with varied results. In the US, many states have employees solely dedicated to the attraction of biotech investments. On a global basis, several nations have passed legislation and amended taxing structures for the lone purpose of enticing biotech projects. But among these countries, one that has separated itself from the pack is the one where modern biotechnology originated: the UK.

Since James Watson and Francis Crick first deduced the double-helix structure of DNA at Cambridge University in 1953, the UK has been an embryonic pool for biotech and pharmaceutical discovery and research. Today, over a dozen of the world's top-selling drugs have been developed in the UK,1 one third of the human genome was sequenced in the country,2 and in 2003 over £3.5 billion was invested in pharmaceutical research.3 The country is the world's third largest exporter of medicines.4 Watson's and Crick's legacy is evident in the more than 800 member organizations that represent the London Biotechnology Network alone. Global pharmaceutical industry leaders have established significant presences in the UK, and GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Amersham all call the United Kingdom "home."


The UK has numerous advantages over its competition in attracting biotech and pharmaceutical investment endeavors. The UK's biotech cluster is one of the largest in Europe, with over 450 companies. Multiple, renowned research universities dot the landscape, with schools such as Cambridge, Oxford, University College London, and the Imperial College Medical School among the most noted. Many of the world's largest pharmaceutical and biotech companies have a presence in the UK, with companies such as Pfizer, Roche, Merck, Bayer, and Eli Lilly supporting significant presences.

These companies have chosen to locate and operate in the United Kingdom for a reason — the UK is a low-risk location relative to its cluster development and industry-specific pro-business environment, with tremendous infrastructure support mechanisms for the industry, equaling a high probability of success. There are other, less expensive places to do business, but on the whole, the UK's ability to nurture and support biotech has been key to its success.


Figure 1. Drug Life Cycle
To understand how biotech and pharmaceutical companies decide where to locate their facilities, it is first important to understand the types of operations that make up the industry and then to evaluate a potential location's positive or negative impact on that operation's success. Each operation, or stage within the drug life cycle, has unique location factors that contribute to its success. A community's ability to support both business and operational goals determines its global competitiveness in attracting biotech and pharmaceutical facilities, and in turn, affects an operation's success.

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