U.K. officials ready $286M fund to fuel a biotech revival

U.K. officials are preparing for the imminent launch of a $286 million fund designed to revive the country's biotech industry, adding to a number of new financing initiatives that promise to pump cash to developers making a perilous journey through the "valley of death."

Dubbed the Biomedical Catalyst, the new fund will be operated by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board. And it has gained an influential supporter in Prime Minister David Cameron, who's become a champion of the life sciences sector since his move into 10 Downing Street.

"The U.K. boasts a world-leading life sciences sector, which is changing at an incredible pace," says Cameron. "And I'm absolutely committed to helping it widen its significant foothold in the global market."

The new fund has a broad mandate to support small- and medium-sized companies as well as academics in preclinical or clinical development. They can qualify for £150,000 ($238,613) feasibility awards to £3 million ($4.8 million) for early- and late-stage awards. Companies can be working on drug development, diagnostics, devices as well as other technologies in the field.

"We … welcome the fact that, while the U.K. government's initial focus for the fund was on helping early-stage companies, its scope has now been widened to include late-stage businesses," says Scott Johnstone, chief executive of the Scottish Lifesciences Association. "We lobbied hard for that change, and we are delighted to see our arguments being accepted."

After years of complaints over a dearth of support for the biotech industry, the U.K. has been rewarded with a number of innovative new funding efforts. The Wellcome Trust has engineered a substantial new fund while Sir Chris Evans (photo) has been working at gaining government cash to back new ventures in Wales. Index Ventures, meanwhile, has joined with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) on a new fund for startups, primarily in Europe.

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- here's the report from The Scotsman