The Office for National Statistics published a report in 2018 that projected a quarter of the UK’s population would be 65 and older by 2066. Five million of those would be over the age of 85.
As a result, research into ageing – and its impact on our society – has increased significantly in recent years helping to position the UK’s health and life sciences sector as one of our most important areas of industry. The sector is currently worth over £70 billion to our economy and provides jobs for almost 241,000 people across the country (1).
Whilst the traditional heartland for biotechnology and life sciences has centered around the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Cambridge / Oxford / London, we’ve seen important clusters emerge across the UK, including Alderley Park, Macclesfield – now one of the UK’s largest bioscience campuses – and in Scotland, where the sector employs more than 37,000 people.
Another world-leading cluster is here in North East England, where the region’s strengths in pharma, ageing and age-related diseases, clinical trials and smart packaging has seen it well placed to respond to some of our global health challenges.
Some of the North East’s key strengths include its well-regarded and influential NHS footprint, which means it’s home to the UK’s largest research active public health system. North East Health Trusts lead the rest of the country for involvement in clinical research with Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust ranked first for the last six years.
One of the most exciting developments in the sector has been the construction of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing on Newcastle Helix, which is due to open later this year. Bringing together world-leading scientists to work in partnership with industry, the NHS and the public, the new centre will develop, test and bring to market products that promote healthy ageing. Newcastle is a globally recognised hub for the development of medical science and social research into the challenges and opportunities of ageing. Newcastle University alone has over 600 academic staff involved in different aspects of ageing research.
Of course, it’s not just the work of one university in our region that is has seen the North East positioned as a centre of excellence in research and development. Sunderland, Durham and Northumbria universities all boast outstanding credentials too. From health and integrated social care to bio-economy and medical training to rare diseases and cancer, our universities are rated some of best in the world for research and innovation. We have over 51,000 students studying STEM subjects in the region.
Elsewhere in the region we have grown a globally competitive pharmaceuticals manufacturing sector that includes a diverse range of businesses; all with international links and strong export performance. Businesses such as GSK, MSD, Piramal Healthcare and Aesica, together employ thousands of people in the North East.
Our sector strengths were really brought home to me during a recent inward investment visit we hosted on behalf of an American clinical trail technology company. We visited the Biosphere on Newcastle Helix that, when open later this year, will offer high quality laboratory and office space to support ambitious life sciences, healthcare and biotechnology companies.
We then went on to NETPark in County Durham where our American visitors were blown away by the ecosystem in the region to support businesses in developing and taking ideas to market. From R&D right through to manufacture and distribution – we have it all.
One of the most significant local resources is the CPI (Centre for Process Innovation), which has a number of world-class centres across the North East, including National Centres focusing on Biologics Manufacturing; Formulation; Healthcare Photonics; and Printable Electronics.
It was also great to see the vibrancy of our cities and the beauty of our countryside and coastlines wow our delegates. When we’re attracting international companies to relocate here, it takes more than the strength of our sectors; the place is just as important.
We have recently produced a short video which showcases the region’s excellence in Life Sciences. Check it out here.
The focus on health and life sciences will continue to gather momentum. It forms part of government’s Industrial Strategy for the UK and it remains a high grown area for North East England. We’re well positioned to grow and lead the sector, which is great news for the region and great news for our economy too.
Article by Guy Currey, Director, Invest North East England