With a combination of world-leading research institutions, experienced academics, capital, and its global contribution to vaccine efforts, the UK has established itself as a global leader in biotech innovation and commercialisation.
The UK life science industry saw its highest ever growth in 2020, marking the most successful year for the industry. In 2020 biotech companies set a new record high raising a total of £2.8B, breaking the previous record of £2.2B set in 2018 and over twice the amount raised in 2019 (UK BioIndustry Association, 2021). The life science industry was already attracting more attention from investors and the high-profile work on the development of vaccines and treatments to COVID-19 has gained public attention and seems to have reassured investors that biotech expansion is a profitable investment.
Home to the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Oxford has seen immense growth in its life sciences sector, attracting global attention.
Oxford spin-outs have done very well in 2020. One billion pounds have been raised across the board, mainly driven by biotech spin-outs.
Adam Workman, the Head of Investments and New Ventures of OUI (Oxford University Innovation).
Some of those spin-outs and other biotech start-ups are nurtured through their early stages at the BioEscalator, Oxford University’s incubator for start-up and spin-out companies in the healthcare sector. Typically, companies arrive with pre-seed or seed funding and almost immediately start planning for Series A funding. Over the period March 2020 - June 2021, a total of £1.25B of financing has been secured by companies at the BioEscalator. The figure includes four series A funding raises, four seed rounds, one acquisition and one partnership deal.
The largest single deal, at £787M, was achieved by Enara Bio, formerly Ervaxx, who finalised a strategic partnership with Pharma giants Boehringer Ingelheim in January 2021 to advance its Dark Antigen™ discovery and EDAPT™ platform into preclinical studies. The funds have also enabled Enara to scale up operations and move to larger premises at The Oxford Science Park.
The second-largest deal was led by former OSI (Oxford Sciences Innovation) Entrepreneur in Residence Oliver Waterhouse. The CEO of Base Genomics led his TAPS (TET-assisted pyridine borane sequencing) technology company through an acquisition by US-based biotech Exact Sciences for £319M in October 2020. The US parent company, which focuses on early cancer detection, will retain operations at the BioEscalator to facilitate continued collaboration with experts at Oxford's medical sciences research campus on which the BioEscalator is located.
Theolytics, PepGen, and MediMab Bio, all female-led biotech companies, secured Series A funding totalling £51M during the pandemic. In the Rose Review of female entrepreneurship published in 2019, it is highlighted that only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female and female-led SMEs are five times less likely to scale up their businesses to £1M compared to their male counterparts (Rose, 2019). The BioEscalator’s female entrepreneurs are therefore truly breaking new ground and highlighting the BioEscalator’s mission to encourage and support diversity within the innovation community.
A further four seed rounds totalling £14.5M have been raised by companies in the BioEscalator, including new tenants, Singula Bio and Accunea. Singula Bio is an Oxford University spin-out company that was founded by three Oxford academics and focuses on hard-to-treat solid tumours. Accunea is a medical device start-up, originating from Imperial College London, that has relocated to the BioEscalator to facilitate company growth by engaging with Oxford academics, clinicians and SMEs.
It has been a truly outstanding time for biotech investment and BioEscalator companies in particular. Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, our tenants have continued to make significant progress with their R&D pipelines, hit their milestones and secure impressive investment deals.
Claire Shingler, Business Manager of the BioEscalator.
This positive momentum is a testament to both the quality of biotech companies and the current market climate. Evidence from Oxford companies suggests that it is set to continue, with more capital already raised by Oxford biotech spin-outs in the first half of 2021 than in the whole of 2020.
Rose, A. (2019). The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship.
UK BioIndustry Association (2021). The science of success: UK biotech financing in 2020.