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University of Cambridge Enterprize Zone draws up roadmap for strengthening positioning as global healthtech leader




University of Cambridge Enterprize Zone draws up roadmap for strengthening positioning as global healthtech leader

A roadmap designed to ensure the city retains and strengthens its position as a global healthtech leader has been drawn up by the University of Cambridge Enterprise Zone (UEZ).

Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge
Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge

Connect: Health Tech was one of 20 UEZs announced back in September 2019 by the government, with Research England funding, in a move to strengthen collaborative ties between universities and businesses.

The UEZ’s new report, Creating a University Enterprise Zone for Cambridge across the life and physical sciences, describes plans to bridge the city’s strengths in biomedical research and cutting-edge technology for real-world applications and new treatments.

Much of that, of course, is already happening - the collaborative possibilities in Cambridge are, after all, a key reason why AstraZeneca sited its new global R&D centre at the heart of the Biomedical Campus.

But the report describes a number of issues holding back progress - with 53 per cent of stakeholders taking part in workshops for the report identifying cultural challenges, such as the need to break down silos, connecting the vast number of networks that exist in the city or enhancing collaboration between university departments and disciplines.

Other challenges include the demanding funding environment, the need to break down barriers between the life and physical sciences and the geographical question: how can the close relationships seen within individual campuses be fostered between sites and science parks, as the cluster grows?

Amid the success already witnessed, the inevitable rise in demand for talent also represents a significant challenge, along with the need for effective mentorship.

Professor Andy Neely visits the labs at The EpiCentre
Professor Andy Neely visits the labs at The EpiCentre

Introducing the report, Prof Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge, cites the need to share and collaborate as key to solving these questions.

“Many of the challenges identified during this analysis are cultural, demonstrating the importance of creating the right environment for ideas, start-ups, innovation and co-creation to thrive,” he said.

“The analysis also reinforces how investment in sustaining the culture of an ecosystem is equally important as investment in buildings, physical space, transport and infrastructure. With the right stakeholders sharing their knowledge, ideas and expertise, the willingness to invest (time and money) and the common altruistic goal of creating wealth for the region through collaboration and partnerships, we will continue to evolve and innovate.”

The Cambridge cluster features 5,300 knowledge-intensive firms, employing more than 67,000 people and generating £18billion in turnover. There are more than 630 life science companies and more than 800 high-tech manufacturing companies in the region, and Cambridge continues to have the highest number of patent applications per 100,000 residents in the UK.

Connect: Health Tech’s report offers five key recommendations to futureproof growth, encourage innovation and benefit patients:

  • Create and foster connectivity across Cambridge giving all organisations in the cluster access to a wider network of expertise and funding opportunities in health tech;
  • Develop and nurture meaningful partnerships which spark collaboration at the interface between medicine and technology
  • Put new ways of working into practice to lower the barriers to engagement across Cambridge and, more broadly, improve navigation, fast-track introductions, increase academic/business interaction and efficient transition from idea to impact;
  • Leverage new partnerships and funding to generate a pipeline of interdisciplinary projects for new and existing shared facilities and incubation space across Cambridge;
  • Work with incubators, accelerators and businesses to to catalyse the design, development and testing of data-driven diagnostics and therapies;
  • Invest in and resource the culture of the cluster in parallel to the planned investment in buildings, physical space, transport and infrastructure.

Prof Neely said: “Cambridge has a deep and rich history of discovery and collaboration, and its interdisciplinary environment is the perfect testbed for new models of innovation in the life sciences. Our roadmap sets out a plan to do just that and will ensure that Cambridge remains a global leader in health technology into the next generation.

“This will require us to pioneer new ways of working and creating connections between different institutions across disciplines, be they academic or private enterprise. Such a model has been proven to work at a small scale – our proposal in the roadmap is to scale this up and apply it across the cluster and beyond.”

AstraZeneca's global R&D Centre, being completed on Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca's global R&D Centre, being completed on Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: AstraZeneca

Many of the report’s ideas centre around ensuring the right connections are made. Listing the top five solutions identified during the workshops, the report says Connect: Health Tech aims to:

  • Develop an efficient navigation system and digital platform for the cluster which gives support and access to stakeholders to find the right person or parts of the ecosystem to meet their interests and needs.
  • Engage the community with networking and virtual events that cross disciplines and identify
  • common goals. Looking outwards to engage with similar communities outside of the cluster. Foster a digital culture of serendipity - purposeful and deliberate design to facilitate chance interactions and matchmaking between the right people. Focus on events that will engage interdisciplinary participation.
  • Create showcases and case studies which demonstrate impact highlighting themes and strengths of Cambridge. Real-life examples of academic-business collaboration and enterprise success stories actively used to stimulate more examples.
  • Build a drop-in/hang-out space that is open to all and used by leading figures to create a sense of community. Identify all existing opportunities and make them more accessible to everyone.
  • Provide training, resources and collaboration tools to equip the community with the skills necessary for effective collaboration. Create a bigger network of market-oriented mentors and “buddy schemes” to support growth. Train new mentors and adopt a purposeful approach to fostering and managing mentors and their training

One of the aims in establishing the UEZ was to build an interdisciplinary bridge between the physical sciences hub at the West Campus, anchored at the Maxwell Centre, and the life sciences hub at the Biomedical Campus in the south of the city, anchored by the Milner Therapeutics Institute, and beyond. But the intention is to reach well beyond the university, and research institutes, and connect with the NHS, industry, investors and government, with a focus on medtech, digital health and therapeutics.

Prof. Tony Kouzarides, director, Milner Therapeutics Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof. Tony Kouzarides, director, Milner Therapeutics Institute. Picture: Keith Heppell

Professor Tony Kouzarides, director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute at the University of Cambridge, said: “The pandemic has clearly shown the importance of rapid innovation in healthcare. We are determined to harness the power of innovation, creativity and collaboration in Cambridge, and apply this towards solving some of the biggest medical challenges facing the country, and the world.”

The report notes how digital connectivity - developed through necessity during the Covid-19 pandemic - helps bring together relevant researchers and skillsets wherever they are based.

By 2023, Connect: Health Tech intends to deliver a digital platform that can boost community interactions, which will have the functionality to live stream events, make introductions and host expert groups. It wants to “transition from physical to digital knowledge exchange” and activate the ‘super-connectors’ - those individuals with unprecedented access to the multi-disciplinary scientific and business community.

Dr Kathryn Chapman, executive manager at the Milner Therapeutics Institute
Dr Kathryn Chapman, executive manager at the Milner Therapeutics Institute

In the next two years, it also wants to scale-up the digital research, business and enterprise

community, while mapping - and effectively utilising - a co-ordinated support structure, which will include incubators and accelerators, business schools and shared facilities.

The strategy is designed to pilot an approach to navigation and connectivity that can be scaled up across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and indeed the UK, while also being applicable to other sectors.

The report can be read at https://report.connect.cam.ac.uk/assets/pdf/Connect-Health-Tech-UEZ.pdf.

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