Sanofi adds to stockpile of U.K. startup space with plant closure

Sanofi ($SNY) has become one of the latest large drugmakers to leave a major U.K. site with instructions to transform the space into a home for new biotech businesses. The move marks another setback for life sciences employment in the country, and there are no guarantees that workers can find jobs at the new companies that could inhabit the facilities of their former employers.

However, Sanofi aims to expand the menu of options for biotech startups looking for places to operate after the company closes its plant in Dagenham, U.K., at the end of the month. As company spokesman Paul Smith told, the pharma company wants multiple bio-businesses to take over the laboratory and manufacturing facilities at the 108-acre site, which could also attract retail and other types of economic activity.

"A core part of Sanofi's project was to leave behind a legacy that brings new business and skilled jobs to the area," Smith told the publication. It reported that 450 Sanofi workers are employed at the site, down from 4,500 in the 1980s, and most of the remaining crew will lose their jobs upon the closure of the plant.

How much biotech incubator space does the U.K. really need? When Pfizer ($PFE) pulled the plug on much of its research activities in Sandwich, the company opened acres of space to biotech startups and research outfits. More than a dozen biotech groups have opened shop at the Sandwich site, Chemical & Engineering News reported. More recently, three life sciences firms committed to move into the research hub of Alderley Park, from which AstraZeneca ($AZN) plans to relocate more than 1,500 researchers to Cambridge, U.K., over the next three years.

Companies can pick up tax benefits and other forms of government support for growing their fledgling biotech operations in the science parks. Indeed, these facilities have the potential to become thriving clusters of biotech activity, but the process of getting to that point will take years and a lot of capital for the cash-hungry startups.

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