J&J backs Scottish biotech incubator at ex-Merck site

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has extended its tendrils into another biotech incubator. Having played a role in the formation of incubators in the U.S., Canada and Israel in recent years, the Big Pharma has now lent its support to an initiative to foster the development of Scottish life science startups.

BioCity Scotland Managing Director Diane Harbison

The company behind the incubator--BioCity Scotland--has pulled together some big names to support the initiative. J&J--which is partnering with, but not investing in the incubator--is joined by tech giant Toshiba and a specialist life science VC Epidarex Capital on the list of confirmed industry partners. Scotland's 16 universities, 8 innovation centers and National Health Service (NHS) are also involved. The goal is to usher ideas out of academia, through commercial development and into use in the NHS.

BioCity Scotland's approach to achieving this objective is reminiscent of other outposts in the rapidly proliferating global network of incubators. "We are basically trying to engineer serendipity," BioCity Scotland Managing Director Diane Harbison told The Herald. Academics will have access to the laboratory space--as well as financial and industry contacts--they will need to start testing their ideas.

The incubator builds on work BioCity has been doing in Scotland for several years by formalizing links to industry, academia and the public sector. BioCity Scotland took over the 20-acre site after Merck ($MRK) pulled out in 2010. Now, the campus is home to a range of companies--including the aforementioned VC shop Epidarex--and is 50% occupied. The goal is to have 50 companies employing 500 people at the site by 2017.

BioCity is trying to pull off similar regenerations of abandoned sites in other parts of the country. The company got started in 2001 when Nottingham Trent University was figuring out how to use the 129,000-square-foot site given to it by BASF. BioCity added the Scottish Merck campus to its portfolio in 2011, two years after which AstraZeneca ($AZN) tapped it to handle the Alderley Park site that was being vacated in the Big Pharma's move to Cambridge.

- read The Herald's piece