U.K. group looks to ignite a Boston-style biotech comeback

Stephen Whitehead, CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

Right now, the stars are all aligned for the Boston biotech hub. It has the venture capital, leading academic and industry researchers, an experienced cast of serial biotech entrepreneurs and a strongly beating heart of innovation in Cambridge that has attracted the rapt attention of the world's biggest pharma companies.

Boston has everything the other hubs desire, and it's become a model that one U.K. biotech group seeks to imitate as it calls for a turnaround effort to save the country's shrinking research base.

"The U.S. has to be our benchmark," Stephen Whitehead, CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, tells Bloomberg. "The U.K. has always been a great base of early science and discovery. We want to see more inward investment coming from the international players."

Here are the key numbers: VC investing in Boston broke the $500 million mark in 2012, according to MassBio. And from 2009 to 2012, the Boston-Cambridge hub added 1,600 jobs, reports Bloomberg.

In the U.K., meanwhile, there has been a drumbeat of bad news in recent years. Pfizer ($PFE) got the bad mojo going with its decision to radically shrink efforts in Sandwich. AstraZeneca has been in a near-constant state of turmoil, looking to downsize R&D as it restructures around Cambridge, U.K. And key players like Shire ($SHPG) and Novartis have recently come up with their own big cuts to some storied research centers. A number of smaller biotechs, meanwhile, foundered a few years ago, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of investors, who have been slow to back new players.

Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi ($SNY), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Pfizer and others have all focused on Boston as one of the world's key R&D centers. Not to be left behind, Merck ($MRK) recently made sure to include Boston on its list of four global hubs where it would base a deal team.

What's the U.K. to do? The ABPI called for easier access to new medicines, where uptake can be slow. Also, the brilliant triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge not only contains some of the world's best drug research efforts but there's also still a major league presence there, with J&J and Merck both beefing up their presence alongside giants like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN).

Add money, a more open market for drugs and a few success stories to encourage the investment community, and the U.K. might have the makings of a comeback recipe. But the ingredients won't be easy to come by.  

- here's the article from Bloomberg 

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