Life sciences in Hertfordshire and the emergence of a global cell and gene therapy cluster

Hertfordshire’s life sciences sector has developed over many decades.  Through major companies like GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme) and Roche, Hertfordshire has seen periods of investment and growth in pharmaceuticals since the 1930s – partly because of its proximity to London and partly because, at key moments, pharmaceuticals businesses have been able to secure major sites.  But there has also been ‘churn’ and phases of restructuring and retrenchment.  This has all created both a legacy and an endowment, linked for example to workforce skills and supply chain possibilities. 

In 2008/09 – against a backdrop of the then-pending ‘patent cliff’ and the more general credit crunch – GSK investigated the idea of developing a major campus at Stevenage, premised on principles of open innovation.  Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC) opened in 2012.  It was followed by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre which opened in 2017 and sought to address a critical, but complex, part of the translation process – from laboratory scale activity to small scale batch production which is needed for Phase III clinical trials. 

These interventions have proved to be very important.  Over recent years, early stage cell and gene therapy businesses associated with the Catapult and/or Catalyst have secured significant equity investment.  The government’s recently-published Life Sciences Vision observes that “the UK has a very strong cluster of Advanced Therapy companies forming in Stevenage around the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.

Through a series of consultations with cell and gene therapy businesses and with wider stakeholders, SQW was asked by Hertfordshire LEP to examine the evolution of the cluster – within the wider context of life sciences in Hertfordshire – and to consider opportunities and barriers in relation to its future growth.   Our report found that for cell and gene therapies, the imperative now is to provide an environment in which businesses can scale up very complicated production processes.  This in turn means:

  • ensuring provision of sufficient and appropriate sites and buildings, both to accommodate scaled-up production and to facilitate the growth of the wider supply chain, including with regard to specialist logistics;
  • securing a supply of appropriately trained and qualified personnel (reflecting the comment from many businesses that there is real ‘competition for talent’);
  • delivering the Town Investment Plan to support the regeneration of Stevenage as a vibrant 21st Century New Town in which the cell and gene cluster can thrive.

Our report is available here.​​​​​​