Mind the gap

U.K. keeps calm and boosts translational science

A wave of initiatives and funds in the U.K. over the last two years has been flooding the gap between the country's prolific scientific achievements and its comparatively low rate of commercialization. The hope is that by connecting translational academics with sorely needed early capital and industry expertise, stakeholders can drive the creation of a self-sustaining ecosystem, and push universities towards spinning out newcos rather than routinely licensing their discoveries to pharmas.

The sector appears poised for an upswing, after a checkered history that saw an early burst of enthusiasm peter out when some high-profile companies ran aground.

"The basic story about biotechnology in the U.K. was a reasonably promising start in the 1980s and 1990s, when a number of new firms were created, and venture capital was going into the sector on a reasonable scale," said Geoffrey Owen, a management professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) who recently surveyed the U.K. biotech industry. "Then came a whole series of setbacks at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s when several of the highly promising firms failed."

Notable among them was British Biotech plc, a company developing therapeutics for cancer and cardiovascular disease whose high-flying stock plummeted following a whistleblower's allegations that the company had misrepresented the progress of its compounds. In 2003, British Biotech merged with Vernalis Group plc to form Vernalis plc.

While biotech languished for over a decade, rumblings of life that began about five years ago have been picking up speed. What could be the difference-maker this time around is that the momentum is fueled by three independent forces that are starting to converge: government initiatives, investor interest, and new translational organizations involving some of the

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