Leading life sciences bio platform selects UK for their first location outside of US

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Photo credit: Flagship Pioneering

Company behind the successful life-sciences firm Moderna, Flagship Pioneering, has selected the UK for their first location outside of the US.

Leading life sciences bioplatform company Flagship Pioneering has today (Tuesday 28 November) announced the UK as the home for its first base outside the US, paving the way for new scientific start-ups, discoveries and investments here in the UK.

Flagship takes a unique approach to investment – with its own scientists exploring ideas invented in its labs to improve human health and the most promising projects being grown into companies.

Since launching in 2000, Flagship has founded more than 100 scientific ventures, worth more than $90 billion combined, among the most notable being Moderna, who developed a groundbreaking mRNA vaccine for Covid-19. To date the company has invested over $3.4 billion in the founding and growth of pioneering life science companies, unlocking a further $26 billion of investment from other sources. 

Flagship Pioneering choosing the UK as its first European base is another vote of confidence for the UK’s £94 billion life sciences sector and is further evidence that the UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for investment, where 1 in 3 of all the biotech startups in Europe over the last decade have been founded in the UK. By basing themselves here, the UK will become Flagship’s latest destination for its next start-ups and ventures – leading to economic growth and new scientific discoveries that improve lives, as well as adding to the 280,000 highly skilled jobs the sector supports nationwide.

The government has cemented this commitment by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the company. This will see them work hand in hand with the life sciences community and key UK scientific resources and stakeholders to, for example, identify new opportunities for innovation and find potential locations in the UK to host manufacturing sites for Flagship’s life sciences companies.

The UK’s life sciences prowess has been on full display at this week’s Global Investment Summit, which has highlighted how – as home to some of the world’s best minds, most extraordinary innovators, and iconic companies – the UK is one of the most dynamic and ambitious destinations for investment, anywhere in the world. The Science and Tech Secretary used the Summit to announce plans to make key technologies being pioneered in the UK, such as drones, even more appealing to investors by revamping the regulatory environment, as well as new partners to Innovate UK’s £100 million Investor Partnerships programme.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said: 

“From Brunel’s engineering revolution in the 19th century through to breakthroughs in genetic medicine in the 21st, British ideas have changed the world because of a willingness to ask big questions and do things differently. But to be successful, our innovators and risk-takers need backing. 

“Flagship Pioneering choosing the UK as their home in Europe is another vote of confidence in our mission to put real financial firepower behind the UK’s world-leading science. Backing the brightest ideas with serious capital will help deliver improved healthcare, new medical treatments, and high-skill jobs.” 

Tom Kibasi, Senior Vice President and Head of Flagship’s UK office, said:

“We are hugely excited at the opportunity to combine the UK’s world-leading science with Flagship’s unparalleled expertise in conceiving, creating and growing new scientific ventures into globally successful companies.

“We’re looking forward to connecting more than 40 Flagship-founded companies into the UK’s thriving life sciences eco-system and fostering new partnerships and collaborations that get breakthrough treatments to patients sooner.”

The Memorandum of Understanding between Flagship and the government sets out five ways the two can work closely together to maximise the UK’s potential to turn bright new ideas into thriving life science businesses. This includes: 

  • Working together on UK-based clinical trials and clinical delivery 
  • Looking into potential locations in the UK to host manufacturing sites for Flagship’s life sciences companies 
  • Engaging with UK’s world leading genomics organisations, such as Genomics England, NIHR Bioresource and UKBiobank  
  • Flagship feeding into UK’s horizon scanning processes that aim to identify opportunities for innovation, earlier 

Flagship demonstrated their commitment to the UK, earlier this month, with the $50 million launch of Quotient Therapeutics, their first ever company co-anchored in both the US and UK. The firm is pioneering somatic genomics, the study of genetic variation at the cellular level, to discover therapeutics informed by new links between genes and disease. 

Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Andrew Griffith said:

“This Government is determined to unleash capital, to support the life science breakthroughs that will help us all live longer, healthier lives, as well as enabling this £94 billion industry to continue to boost the economy, and support high-skilled jobs across the UK. 

“Our work with Flagship Pioneering will be critical to that mission, by ensuring world-class UK research is given the backing needed to build scalable industries, cementing the UK’s place as a science superpower.” 

Lord Johnson, Minister for Investment at the Department for Business and Trade said:

“This is a strong public signal from Flagship of the exciting potential they see in UK life sciences, our health and research ecosystem, and of their ongoing confidence in the UK as an investment destination. Flagship’s extensive expertise can also help further develop our vibrant UK sector.

“The Department for Business and Trade will continue our transatlantic support for Flagship and their portfolio companies, from developing their first footholds to realising the full range of benefits this world class hub for life sciences can deliver.”

The UK is undeniably a life sciences powerhouse. It is home to 1 in 3 of all the biotech startups founded in Europe over the last decade, attracted more than a third of all venture capital finance raised by European life sciences companies in 2022, and boasts 4 of the world’s top 10 universities for life sciences and medicine. The government is backing this critical sector with £520 million for life sciences manufacturing, the £650 million ‘Life Sci for Growth’ package and £20 million to speed up the development of new dementia treatments coming as part of the government’s full response to the O’Shaughnessy Review of commercial clinical trials in the UK.

Unlocking greater private funding for UK R&D is one of the key objectives of The UK Science and Technology Framework

To this end, in July DSIT launched the Research Ventures Catalyst to open up new funding pathways that will enable our brightest minds to take greater risks and pursue new means of working that might not be supported via traditional avenues. 

There have been significant recent successes in attracting private investment into the UK life sciences sector, such as landmark partnerships with BioNTech on cancer treatment and with Moderna, which will see the building of a brand-new innovation and technology centre.   

Besides attracting inward investment from private sources, government is also serious about committing its own cash towards boosting the sector. In the last few months alone we have announced a raft of measures backed by over £650 million to support investment, growth and innovation in UK life sciences, including £121 million to make rapid progress on the recommendations of the O’Shaughnessy Review into clinical trials, and we continue to invest heavily in R&D at record amounts. This government has committed to invest £20 billion in R&D in 2024-2025. 

Flagship’s announcement today paves the way for this groundbreaking company to provide the same impact in growing the UK’s life sciences ecosystem as it has in Cambridge, Massachusetts, arguably the global centre for life sciences.

The UK government has just agreed a new Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing, Access and Growth with the UK pharmaceutical industry. The landmark agreement will improve access to cutting-edge treatments for NHS patients, support financial sustainability of the health service and advance UK life sciences sector.

The new scheme will support significant industry investment in UK clinical trials, manufacturing and health technology assessments strengthens UK’s global competitiveness.

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