In 2022, headlines in the science sector were dominated by one topic: the ‘crippling shortages of lab space’ with demand far outstripping supply and start-ups squeezed out, unable to fulfil their ambition and potential.

In this article, Allan Andrews (Senior Policy Advisor to the Mayor of the West Midlands) explains how a Birmingham development is set to enhance the UK’s life science sector – turning around recent industry setbacks, empowering businesses to succeed and even securing the UK’s position as a global science superpower.

In 2022, headlines in the science sector were dominated by one topic: the ‘crippling shortages of lab space’[1] with demand far outstripping supply and start-ups squeezed out, unable to fulfil their ambition and potential.

Fast forward to January 2023 and the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) report[2] details a threat to the UK life sciences sector due to a loss of manufacturing investment and capacity, jobs and exports to international rivals. Fierce global competition has seen us drop from 4th to 98th in overall trade balance in pharmaceuticals, leading to the publication of the Government’s Life Sciences Vision.

But this shouldn’t make for unhappy reading. Work is well underway in the second city to turn all this around – supporting researchers and businesses, and securing our position as a global science superpower.

Turning first to reports of critical shortages of lab space – while we know businesses have struggled to scale-up or indeed start up, much of this reporting focused on the southeast and ‘Golden Triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge. While these centres of excellence undoubtedly pursue world-leading and world-changing research, there’s a clear opportunity here to take advantage of ‘levelling up’ as a genuine force for good rather than a buzzword. Expanding lab provision in other areas will build resilience and future proof the entire UK life sciences sector.

The West Midlands, for example, is one of the most dynamic data-driven healthcare and med-tech economies in the UK, worth £10.3bn and employing over 17,000 professionals. 10,000 highly skilled life sciences graduates are trained in Birmingham every year, with 48% of the University of Birmingham’s graduates staying in the city to further their careers. Coupled with a cost-of-living up to 60% lower than London, and the recent Commonwealth Games bringing unprecedented investment into the city, Birmingham is a prime location for life sciences enterprises.

The strengths that Birmingham and the broader Midlands region can offer life science businesses are the strengths the sector is crying out for. Not just in basic science but in clinical trials design and delivery, biomarker analysis and diagnostic development, medical technologies and devices, and regulatory support. In addition, Birmingham is also a ‘world within a city’, mirroring the global population in terms of its ethnic profile and socioeconomic demographics. Significantly, its clinical trials units are able to recruit 25% non-white representation to studies – harnessing the city’s population diversity to ensure results are reflective of all demographics.

Much of this activity is being led by the University of Birmingham and its co-located Birmingham Health Partners NHS Trusts, so it was natural that , when the opportunity arose to purchase a 10-acre plot of brownfield land adjacent to the main campus, the University sought to establish a science park dedicated to life sciences – an ambition which has been proven to be ahead of its time.

Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC) is the realisation of this ambition. Situated in the heart of Birmingham’s critical cluster of health excellence, BHIC is being developed through a long-term collaboration between the University and experienced investor-developers Bruntwood SciTech.

Although the first building – six-storey No.1 BHIC – is impressive, it’s only Phase 1 of a ten-year masterplan that will eventually deliver 10,000 skilled jobs and add £400m GVA to the local economy.  Around 133,000 sq ft of premium lab and office space is on offer for forward-thinking businesses in the health and life sciences sector – but while this goes a long way to addressing the nationwide lack of bench space, it’s not the true USP.

What sets BHIC apart is its principal occupier – the University’s flagship life sciences research facility, the Precision Health Technologies Accelerator (PHTA), an advanced suite of facilities custom-designed to support life sciences companies to start up, scale up, and flourish.

PHTA will act as a catalyst and a home for collaborative interactions between academics, entrepreneurs and clinicians with complementary skillsets, who can come together to accelerate innovations in a way that just can’t be done when the talent and experience isn’t under one roof. The result will be innovative new diagnostic tools, health technologies and medical devices which can reach patients faster, improving the lives of people in the city of Birmingham and far beyond.

Importantly, the building isn’t a refurbishment or repurposing of existing facilities. It has been custom designed in consultation with the University’s key opinion leaders in a multitude of scientific fields and its existing base of industry partners. Its bespoke facilities are designed to accommodate researchers at proof-of-concept stage through to spin-out companies and beyond – providing small health innovation businesses with much needed grow-on space.

Growth is very much the intention. Businesses will be supported at every stage to scale up, which is where the BHIC ten-year masterplan comes in. Outline planning permission for a total of six buildings has been granted, and future phases of development will bring an opportunity for successful businesses to grow right here from the West Midlands. They’ll be able to work with Bruntwood SciTech to uniquely design labs, floors or even entire buildings to create the environment their business needs, while retaining access to the Birmingham clinical-academic ecosystem that made their enterprise successful.

Ambition, clearly, is not lacking in Birmingham, and it has been backed by Government, too – in 2020, the ecosystem was awarded Life Sciences Opportunity Zone status by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

One of only six sites to receive this designation, Birmingham was recognised by Government for its world-class research infrastructure which brings together academics from the University of Birmingham, clinicians from major research and teaching NHS Trusts, and industry.

Naturally, as a research facility operated by a university, training and development are a major focus. Going back to the MMIP report, upskilling is seen as crucial in supporting the Life Sciences Vision. Roles in cell and gene therapy manufacturing, for example, are slated to rise 117% by 2026 (based on 2021 levels), and bioprocessing roles predicted increase 151% over the same period[3].

In Andy Street’s 2021 manifesto, he outlined a vision for the West Midlands to become a national leader in life sciences. Government – national, regional, and local – and industry should work together to ensure the right infrastructure is in place to support the growth of life sciences clusters and networks. Governments have a key role in helping to identify emerging clusters and technologies and supporting their growth through funding for science, research, and vital infrastructure.

Here in the West Midlands, our partners are creating a truly multidisciplinary ecosystem where academics, clinicians and pharma experts can work under one roof, without siloes – led by experienced scientists like Prof Gino Martini. Ultimately, it exists for patients – to give them access to precision medicine, tailored therapies, and the latest life-enhancing technologies.

When the patient is at the centre of research, a new aspect of ‘levelling up’ becomes apparent – everyone should benefit from access to world-class health innovation. Not just those who are local to centres of excellence such as the Golden Triangle – all patients deserve the chance to take part in research, so that no patient is ever again told that there are no further options for their treatment.







Allan Andrews has extensive experience across local, regional and European policy-making. Following the Mayoral election of 2017, Allan was asked by the newly elected Mayor, Andy Street CBE, to join his team as Senior Policy Adviser at the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Allan was elected to Coventry City Council in 2008 and served as a City Councillor until May 2021, when he stood down after 13 years. He was a long-serving member of the Planning Committee, Licensing Committee and Ethics Committee, and led a number of high profile campaigns as a City Councillor.

He has previously worked for the Chief Whip of the Conservative Delegation of MEPs and as Head of Office for a Member of Parliament and Government Minister. His previous positions include business relations at Rolls-Royce and as Public Affairs Adviser at Cadent.

Allan has held a variety of Non-Executive Directorships including at Whitefriars Housing, part of the WM Housing Group, one of the region’s largest not-for-profit social housing businesses. He also spent five years on the board at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre.

He is currently Chair of the Advisory Board at CareWeShare; he is a member of the board at the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, a Director at Stratford Town Football Club and is an Associate Director at CalComms, a public affairs and communications agency based in London. He advises a number of CEOs and businesses on their engagement with local and national government. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

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