Building on experience at ex-AstraZeneca and Pfizer sites, U.K. sets out vision for biotech hubs

The United Kingdom is planning to establish "life science opportunity zones" to help ex-Big Pharma campuses become hubs for startups. George Freeman, the U.K. minister for life sciences, has thrown his weight behind the concept, which forms part of a broader initiative to build on the experience of repurposing Alderley Park and Sandwich. 

U.K. Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman

In recent years, the exit of AstraZeneca ($AZN), Novartis ($NVS) and Pfizer ($PFE) from out-of-town campuses has raised questions about how the U.K. can make use of abandoned Big Pharma sites and the people they once employed. The industry and government have responded by trying to support the growth of startups to fill the capacity once occupied by AstraZeneca at Alderley Park and Pfizer at Sandwich. Now, with the release of a toolkit for transition and the creation of opportunity zones, the same players are trying to codify and strengthen this process. 

"Former pharmaceutical sites are a huge opportunity for the U.K. life sciences sector to provide valuable hubs for smaller companies," Freeman said in a statement. "This toolkit will be a fantastic resource to help protect and grow these existing regional clusters of expertise, and the creation of 'life science opportunity zones' should be a powerful lever to secure local investment and growth."

The toolkit, which was put together by the industry, presents the opportunity zones as a way to help ex-Big Pharma sites make it through the first 10 to 15 years of their transitions into repurposed sites. Details of how the sites will achieve this goal are somewhat vague. The toolkit pitches the zones as a way for the government "to have a structured overview of assets in the industry." Establishing such a vantage is expected to support stronger cooperation between the government and industry. Sites interested in applying for the status should contact the Office for Life Sciences.

While the initiative was borne out of the experience of repurposing sites that were in the process of being dropped by Big Pharma companies, the zones are seen as having a role prior to such relocation decisions being made. In this scenario, life science sites are designated as opportunity zones while the Big Pharma is in residence, potentially resulting in the creation of conditions that eliminate the desire to relocate. The local council wants to see AstraZeneca's site in Macclesfield designated as an opportunity zone.

- here's the report (PDF)
- and the release