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First MBA in life sciences in Europe as Biotechnology Business Institute initiates new chapter





Biotechnology Business Institute Cambridge is inviting applications to join the 2023 cohort for its International MBA in Life Sciences – the only such course in Europe.

Biotechnology Business Institute (BBI) Cambridge duo Mark Treherne, curriculum coordinator, and Chris Howie CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell
Biotechnology Business Institute (BBI) Cambridge duo Mark Treherne, curriculum coordinator, and Chris Howie CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell

The course is based around the Biotechnology Business Institute (BBI) Barcelona programme, whose MBA Life Sciences certification began 10 years ago and is now astutely managed by managing partner Juan Garcia in the Spanish biotech hub.

The Cambridge equivalent, an international business school for life sciences, has been developed by UK managing director Chris Howie (an investor and head of sales at Vortex Biosciences Inc) and curriculum coordinator Mark Treherne, who followed his scientific career (including a stint at Pfizer) by setting up Cambridge Drug Discovery and has since helped net £200m investment for a series of early-stage life sciences companies.

BBI Cambridge was incorporated in 2020, explains Mark, and is now “developing the next generation of life science leaders”. It is based at The Bradfield Centre, where lectures and events will be held as the model shifts from a virtual course to in-person.

“The MBA is a one-year online course,” Mark says. “It’s quite intensive, with a focus on life sciences. Most of the people on the course are doing it while working, so there’s lots of evening lectures.

“We spun out the Cambridge version from BBI Barcelona, with Chris and myself as the main principals. There are more than 140 different lecturers, most are based in the Cambridge biotech sector.

“To start with it was face-to-face, then the pandemic started, and Brexit hasn’t helped getting students into the UK, so last year we tried it virtually and of course most of the students are tech-savvy, so the platform is now online. Most lectures are recorded, the assessments are online, and participants have access to our virtual libraries, so that gives a Cambridge experience, virtually, all over the world.”

The Bradfield Centre. Picture: Richard Marsham
The Bradfield Centre. Picture: Richard Marsham

Locating the course in Cambridge has proved astute, both in terms of having a ready-made set of lecturers and mentors, and in terms of branding to the global educational community.

“We complement what’s available from other organisations in Cambridge rather than compete with them,” Mark notes. “There are very few MBAs in the world that focus solely on life sciences, and none at Cambridge – indeed none in the UK or in Europe, just in the US. We thought we could offer something hopefully as good and maybe better.”

Most of the teaching staff come from smaller biotech organisations, though there are some from larger pharma companies including AstraZeneca. The course is of immediate interest to those who may be thinking of starting their own biotech company.

“We spend a lot of time talking about fundraising and investment,” says Mark, “so perhaps it is a little bit biased towards someone who wants to start their own company or join a smaller younger company, though we do have people teaching from AstraZeneca and other large companies.

“Some are certainly going to start their own company, while others are curious and this course helps them make a decision – so even if they don’t go on to start a company it’s a success because it will have helped them define their career path.”

Cambridge is a life sciences hub with global reach
Cambridge is a life sciences hub with global reach

The one-year MBA in Life Sciences course is priced at £5k and runs from January to December, “because we figured out most companies work in calendar years and this fits in with their budgets and calendar, so Year 2 is starting in January.”

Mark adds: “It’s obviously cheaper because it’s virtual at the moment. We’re starting to bring in physical lectures in 2023 and we want to start being hybrid, which is a challenge – you have to remember not to walk around the lecture room when you’re online because you’ll go off-camera, but the Bradfield has plenty of facilities; there’s a lot of flexibility for hiring rooms and it has a really nice lecture theatre, and we wanted one that is state-of-the-art. There’s smaller teaching rooms too.

“Cambridge as a wider brand has lots of tradition but Cambridge Science Park goes back to 1970: there’s lots of like-minded examples at the Bradfield promoting education in general.

“We’re not a not-for-profit. We want to offer an excellent accredited education at a price that people could afford. Our view is to cover costs but this is not about making money, it’s about doing good and helping people’s careers. If you’re going to start a biotech company then it’s very affordable.”

Biotechnology Business Institute (BBI) Cambridge duo Mark Treherne, curriculum coordinator, and Chris Howie CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell
Biotechnology Business Institute (BBI) Cambridge duo Mark Treherne, curriculum coordinator, and Chris Howie CEO. Picture: Keith Heppell

Mark’s own career has seen him navigate – clearly with some aplomb – through both the academic world (as a student and a teacher) and the business world. He says of the curriculum: “Basically my philosophy is ‘what would have been really useful for me to know 20 years ago?’.”

He adds: “It’s a wider demographic, and it can be more inclusive. The applicants have to be motivated and have qualification and the ability to use their skills, but the advantage is that people who are attracted to the Cambridge phenomenon can receive a Cambridge education but they don’t have to come here.

“It’s an MBA in Life Sciences, accredited by BBI Barcelona, and that gives us a European accreditation which some people like to have if they are European.

Barcelona, where the Biotechnology Business Institute originated
Barcelona, where the Biotechnology Business Institute originated

“The curriculum and content is similar, there’s probably a 65 per cent overlap of content.

“We broadened it to include medical technologies, plus products and research tools which is what Abcam has been doing so successfully. We take a slightly wider and more holistic view of the field.”

Year 2 of the International MBA in Life Sciences from BBI Cambridge will have “between 20 to 40” students: the average student age is 25.

Applications are available for the Year 2 cohort which starts on January 17, 2023.



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