In the News
October 25, 2017
By Mike Scialom
Professor Sir Greg Winter was on hand to unveil the newest development plans for the Babraham Research Campus last week.
The design features two buildings, set in the grounds of Babraham Hall, with a combined 108,000 sq ft of space for integrated laboratories and offices. Construction starts in the new year with the as-yet-unnamed premises due to open in 2019. It will house life sciences start-ups and scale-ups in the same way as the existing campus of 115,000 sq ft which opened in 1993 and is now home to 60 enterprises and around 2,000 people. (The campus, which opened in 1993, is run by an independent charitable life sciences organisation.)
A high-level audience at the announcement ceremony included a 26-person trade delegation from San Diego led by Congressman Sam Peters. Attendees heard from speakers including Derek Jones, chief executive of Babraham Bioscience Technologies (BBT); Tim Schoen, CEO of BioMed Realty which provides real estate solutions to the life science community; Congressman Peters; regional mayor James Palmer and Sir Greg who is, of course, a globally-renowned scientist who, as well as being Master of Trinity College, continues his life sciences odyssey via a multiplicity of organisations and investments, the latest being Bicycle Therapeutics, where he is board member and co-founder.
If anyone is a poster boy for the life sciences juggernaut, it’s Sir Greg, and he’s not resting on his laurels either as a scientist or as an entrepreneur. And he’s got a wonderful sense of humour.
“Computers companies in Cambridge seized their commercial opportunities early with Sir Clive Sinclair, Acorn and ARM,” he told the assembled guests in a marquee on the new site, “but it took a lot longer for biotech firms.
“The first was Cambridge Antibody Technology which was founded in 1990. Work was at a very early stage when I became aware of competitors from San Diego and I was therefore forced to develop a start-up company for antibody technology.” Cue audience laughter at this generous tribute. “This was long before antibodies were taken seriously, there was just one antibody on sale at the time, whereas now six of the world’s top 10 drugs are antibodies.
“I met David Chiswell of Amersham International (now chair of Kymab) and we found a seed investor who already had a stake in Peptec. It was an Australian horse fertility company, and after the deal was struck one of them was heard to say: ‘OK, let’s see how the boffin trots!’
“It’s a rite of passage that life science companies move from one site to another, but one of the reasons for that is a lack of sites. Babraham is now the centre of one of the best antibody hubs in the world. Ideas continue to pour out of Cambridge laboratories, and are being developed by a myriad small companies, with the infrastructure struggling to keep pace.
“Cambridge is Europe’s leading technology cluster, with 57,000 people employed by 1,500 technology-based firms. The investment opportunities are here.”
BBT’s Derek Jones said that the expansion of the site “is the result of two years of discussion” and “the vision is to be the best place in Europe to be a life science company”.
Tim Schoen, of San Diego-based BioMed Realty, said: “We’re really excited. Really excited to be kicking off our partnership with BBT, and to Derek and his team I say, your vision has made this possible today, to build on the ethos that is the Babraham Institute.
“The investment, connections and partnership with San Diego are going to grow. Cambridge has emerged as one of BioMed Realty’s most important assets along with those in California, in San Diego and Seattle.
“BioMed Realty now has 1.9million sq ft of real estate being built around the US and in the UK. This project has been two years in the making.”
Congressman Peters paid tribute to “smart building, smart planning and visionary leadership”.
He was followed by BioMed Realty director of development Douglass Cuff who told guests: “The new laboratory on Europe’s leading campus supporting early-stage life science companies is meeting the scale-up needs of tomorrow’s AstraZenecas.”
After the speeches I caught up with Derek Jones. “It’s not a science park, it’s a campus, and it’s an important distinction,” the BBT chief executive said. “To get on the campus you have to be doing life sciences, if there’s synergetic activities with the Babraham Institute that’s good but as long as you’re doing life sciences you can come here.”
The new buildings are designed for growing companies. “So for example one company started with six people, they came here four or five years ago, now they’re 180 people. That’s Kymab.”
Does the BBT foster any connection with the work going on at Addenbrooke’s?
“The Addenbrooke’s situation is absolutely complementary, we work closely with all other organisations: Cambridge is too small to set up artificial barriers.”
Douglass Cuff was also on hand for a chat. He was based in Cambridge between 2012 and 2016. “I was on Sturton Street,” he said. “I moved to Boston last year, but I still come back once a month, that was part of the deal. I have a very fine aunt who lives in Mildenhall, a cousin in Burwell, and many friends.
“Our remit is for life sciences. Biomed Realty started off in Cambridge in 2004, as at that time landlords were nervous about some of the chemicals that were in use, and it’s now a core market for us.”
Mr Cuff is keen on the links to nearby Granta Park, saying “the idea is to connect Granta Park and Babraham closer together… Granta Park is like an apiary”.
He also mentioned that a driverless pod is due to link Whittlesford to the Wellcome Genome Campus in nearby Hinxton. That’s a massive story in itself, but on a day of huge significance for Cambridge’s global standing it seemed to be a bit of a post-script!