Next-generation cell and gene therapies are spurring demand for manufacturing space in key life sciences clusters

Life sciences is a sector with longstanding clustering tendencies! Indeed, the benefits of physical proximity, collaboration and knowledge-sharing are widely recognised, both for collections of companies and constituent parts of the same organisation.

In a recent EY study, life sciences executives attributed 14.6% of revenues and 13.7% of cost savings to an ecosystem involvement. EY also reported that the companies with the highest performing ecosystems added a further 1.7 times more to annual revenue and two times the incremental revenue growth.

And there are other ways of measuring the benefits. AstraZeneca recognised the R&D potential of locating in the Cambridge ecosystem. Collaboration with some of the world’s best scientists was at the heart of that move, and the company now cites over 200 collaborations across the Cambridge ecosystem – 130 with Cambridge University alone. That’s quite a contrast to the ten collaborations they had back in 2013 prior to that move.

The benefits of R&D collaboration within the leading innovation ecosystems are, therefore, unquestioned, but collaboration and partnering goes beyond R&D and is increasingly driving decisions for biomanufacturing as well. For instance, it was a huge part of the solution to meet the rapid scale-up demands involved in producing billions of COVID vaccine doses within an unprecedented timescale.Collaboration key

The pandemic has accelerated the development and commercialisation of new vaccine manufacturing platforms, but their application is not limited to COVID-19.

Cell and gene therapies leverage viral vector manufacturing platforms as do several vaccines, including the AstraZeneca/Oxford version. With manufacturing demand for these next generation therapies at an all-time high and capacity limited, how can biopharma companies and growing biotechs benefit from locating their biomanufacturing in established R&D ecosystems?

There are already several examples that provide useful pointers. In the US, there is a growing list of companies – both start-ups and more mature biopharmas – who have chosen the Research Triangle Park (RTP) within the renowned R&D hub of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, to house their cell and gene therapy manufacturing sites.

RTP benefits from being globally recognised as a leading biotechnology ecosystem, but additionally, North Carolina’s broader biomanufacturing scale provides access to rich talent pools and an established supply chain infrastructure.

Novartis Gene Therapies selected RTP to produce its pioneering gene therapy, Zolgensma. Kriya Therapeutics completed its gene manufacturing GMP site in July 2021 and, recently, China’s CARsgen opened its new CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing site.

Meanwhile, Biotech major Biogen announced plans last year for expanding its existing biomanufacturing site to encompass its gene therapy production and growing biotech Jaguar Gene Therapy has also revealed plans for a new production facility.Therapy in the UK

In the UK, the Stevenage Biosciences Catalyst (SBC) Campus also showcases collectivity potential. Stevenage has established itself as one of Europe’s largest cell and gene therapy clusters and attracts leading biotech companies in the field who are keen to access the strong scientific network, but also the manufacturing capabilities available within the Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult.

One such company is Autolus Therapeutics, who leveraged manufacturing within the catapult as it developed its CAR-T cell therapy for cancer treatment. Now that it has progressed towards commercialisation, it is building its own 70,000 sq ft manufacturing site – also in Stevenage – which will stay connected to the SBC campus. This gives Autolus the continuity advantage of accessing the manufacturing capabilities within the CGT until its own site is completed in 2023.

Pharma giant GSK is also at the heart of the Stevenage ecosystem and is now utilising the CGT catapult to accelerate its own cell and gene therapy pipeline. Such high-profile collaborations will serve to further enhance the reputation of Stevenage as a go-to destination for companies developing cell and gene therapy companies in the UK and beyond.

Oxford is another world leading R&D life sciences ecosystem that has seen significant development in advanced therapies and vaccine manufacturing in the last few years. Oxford Biomedica’s viral vector platform was extensively used in the manufacture of the Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but it also had a number of partnerships to develop and manufacture cell and gene therapies.

It now has several locations within Oxford including the state-of-the art Oxbox manufacturing facility. The UK government, in conjunction with academia and industry, built the soon-to-be-completed Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre on the Harwell campus in Oxford.

This will focus on the strategic development of vaccines, but also offer a range of services to support vaccine development through to commercialisation. It is therefore no surprise that growing start-ups – such as Oxford University spin-out Vaccitech – chose to stay in Oxford and locate its new 31,000 sq ft R&D centre within the Harwell Campus.

Meanwhile, Leiden, in the Netherlands, is another thriving R&D ecosystem, growing at pace. Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) recently announced plans to build its first European CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing site in Leiden Biosciences Park on land owned by Leiden University.

Leiden is already favoured by industry giants Johnson & Johnson, mid-size player Astellas and upcoming biotech Galapagos among others. BMS’s decision to locate its new, state of the art CAR-T cell therapy manufacturing close to Leiden University Medical Centre offers numerous collaboration advantages within the established knowledge networks.Keeping it real

From a real estate perspective, what can we derive from these changes? The consequences are not limited to changes in the locational preferences of biomanufacturing but also include new routes to space procurement.
The location preferences for new manufacturing platforms follow an R&D model rather than traditional manufacturing, with access to specialist talent and innovation key. The presence of accessible manufacturing capabilities further strengthens the appeal of even the most established R&D ecosystems, particularly for companies in later stages of therapeutic development.

Long-term leasing agreements and forward funding of next generation manufacturing sites within the established hubs is becoming more prevalent versus the traditional pharma ownership model.

In the US, we are seeing significant clustering of cell and gene therapy manufacturing in the Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham, while in Europe, we are already witnessing the early signs of cluster development for both vaccine and cell and gene therapy manufacturing in Stevenage, Oxford and Leiden.

As the sector continues to grow and new therapies mature towards commercialisation, biomanufacturing demand is set to continue its growth trajectory. Clustering within existing R&D hubs, although a shift for manufacturing, makes sense and offers numerous benefits around collaboration, knowledge access and capability building.

For the clusters themselves, it gives them an even greater opportunity to galvanise and inspire future projects.

Joanne Henderson is Executive Director, Head of Life Sciences UK & EMEA at CBRE. Go to