The UK is the leading developer of biotechnology-derived therapies in Europe and is second only to the US globally in terms of numbers of biotherapies in clinical trials, says a new government report.

The UK is home to 777 medical biotechnology companies, with a combined annual turnover of £4.2 billion, or around 30% of the European total. 109 of these companies have a turnover greater than £5 million annually, and seven employ more than 250 staff, according to the first annual analysis and commentary document produced from the Bioscience and Health Technology Database, launched last month by Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson.

86% of the UK’s medical biotechnology firms are engaged in R&D, and they currently have 245 therapies in development, mostly small molecules, and with new technology products such as therapeutic proteins present in all phases of development, the document adds.

The Database was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Department of Health (DH) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to provide information on companies active in the medical technology, medical biotechnology and industrial biotechnology sectors across the UK. The first of its kind, the initiative will be used to inform government policy and industry strategy and to benchmark the success of the UK sector.

“The database will also support the work of the UKTI to promote the UK life science industry to overseas procurers, investors and influencers as part of the UK Life Sciences Marketing Strategy,” according to Lord Drayson, Trade Minister Lord Davies and Health Minister Mike O’Brien, writing in their introduction to the new report.

The UK has one of the most developed medical technology sectors in Europe, with a balance of young and established businesses supported by a network of specialist suppliers employing 56% of the sector workforce, says the document. The sector has also developed a manufacturing infrastructure, with 26% of companies investing in this capability, it adds.

Of the companies developing new therapies, the largest segments in terms of turnover and employment are small molecules, antibodies and therapeutic proteins, which together account for 53% of turnover and 44% of employment. The split of companies is almost equal between those developing small-molecule-based products and those containing large molecules such as proteins or DNA, it adds.

The report describes the sector’s global position as “one of the success stories of UK industry over the last 15 years,” pointing out that it “has benefitted from the UK’s academic excellence, highly-skilled workforce, a balanced regulatory regime, fiscal business and intellectual property support policies.”

The BioIndustry Association, which represents bioscience companies in the UK, has welcomed the development of the Database which, said BIA chairman Clive Dix, means “there are no longer any excuses for government not developing accurate policies for the life sciences sector.”

However, the BIA still hopes that the government will collate additional statistics on the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which dominate the life sciences sector, and on the product pipeline of companies, he added.