Think big, was the key undercurrent of former science minister Lord Paul Drayson’s address to delegates at the BioIndustry Association conference in London this week.

While plenty of scientific discoveries are being spun-out into start-up companies, these largely remain small, single-product entities, he said, noting that too few are scaling up into large businesses that can “turn up the dial” on employment and economic growth.

Technology departments across different universities should consider merging to boost their muscle and give them a better chance of securing longer-term growth and sustainability, he suggests, and also called on the whole sector to use M&A to “build resilience and take out the competition”, creating larger companies and ultimately more wealth and health for the nation.

Bioscience is “of real strategic importance” to the UK, and “never has it been more important for the sector to have its impact now”, he said. 

And, while welcoming findings of the State of the Nation report, which shows the UK to be Europe’s top biocluster with more than 450 products developed last year, Lord Drayson stressed the need to “continue to build on this momentum” and “get innovative medicines into use earlier”.

Foreign ties

Meanwhile, UK Trade and Industry urged the sector to look to exports as a means of fuelling growth and attracting inward investment, particularly in countries such China and India.

Highlighting the opportunities, Clive Allcorn, British Consulate-General, Shanghai, noted that China’s Minister of Health has pledged that the country will spend an additional $11.8 billion to advance biotech innovation between 2015 and 2020.

China has “a strong inclination to work with the UK” to tap into our nation’s rich pool of innovation, and given that it has “more money than you can shake a stick at”, it could make for an attractive proposition for some companies.

There are also huge opportunities for UK business in India - where generic drugmakers make up 72% of the market and are “hungry for technology” - particularly in joint venture or collaborative research channels, added Mark Treherne, chief executive of UKTI Life Sciences Organisation.