Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC) is a world-leading science park of global significance. It has a focus on advanced therapies and is at the centre of the largest cluster of cell and gene therapy companies in Europe. SBC was formed in 2010 with funding from GSK (£11m), Wellcome Trust (£6m) and the UK government (£21m). It is a not-for-profit organisation where surpluses are reinvested in value adding services to support its occupiers.
SBC is a leading location for companies to develop and commercialise cutting edge therapeutics. The campus is situated in Hertfordshire at the heart of the golden triangle. It provides a supportive environment for innovators and developers working in advanced therapies, diagnostics and drug development to establish and grow their operations in a vibrant ecosystem with access to scientific facilities, business support and a range of funding suited to their stage of development.
The campus is close to road, rail and airport networks and provides the benefit of access to affordable housing, excellent schools and a skilled workforce.
A campus of national and international significance
The campus is home to GSK, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, LifeArc and Cytiva alongside a growing cluster of over 40 start-up companies. SBC’s focus on development and commercialisation is highly complementary to the nearby academic centres of Cambridge, Oxford and London.
Since opening, SBC’s occupiers have benefited from £2bn funding raised through grants, equity, IPO/FPO and acquisition making SBC a leading location for life science investment in the UK. The cluster generates £87m gross GVA per year (£34m net GVA) for the UK economy and is responsible for 640 net additional jobs. It is predicted that, when expansion plans are complete by 2040, this number will increase to £417m gross GVA (£165m net GVA) for the UK economy, delivering a total of 4,500 jobs (1,800 net additional) jobs (source Economic Impact Assessment, Charles Monck & Associates, 2021.)
Business and scientific support for occupiers
SBC brings together academic researchers, start-ups and mature companies to create an innovation supply chain. Around this, a supportive environment is created that gives access to the facilities, training and finance that they need at each stage of development.
Business support is provided through mentoring from senior managers with the relevant scientific and commercialisation expertise to help address technical, funding and business issues. There are regular touchpoints between organisations to enable them to share experiences and solutions.
Scientific support is available through the Community Lab. Featuring a broad range of essential equipment, the Community Lab is free of charge to lab-based occupiers and is particularly beneficial to early-stage companies. In addition to this, the Cytiva Technology Lab provides free access to the latest high specification analytical and imaging equipment and is the only one of its kind in Europe. For more mature companies, the co-located Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre supports the development, scale-up and commercialisation of cell and gene therapies providing the specialists and supply chain to fast-track cell and gene therapies to the patients who need them.
High levels of IT sophistication on campus
To support the SBC innovators and developers working in advanced therapies, diagnostics and drug development at SBC need a robust IT infrastructure. SBC works with its occupiers and partners to make sure its infrastructure is reliable, efficient and future-proofed.
The Incubator and Accelerator buildings were constructed in 2011 and were originally designed with a flexible IT infrastructure (including ducting, comms rooms and category 6A cabling). However, the changing requirements of occupiers and the advancement of technology led SBC to invest in a significant upgrade to the infrastructure in 2019, which resulted in a high capacity (1TB with backup line), fully resilient network.
SBC’s comms rooms house all the main infrastructure connectivity and enable each individual occupier to have their own comms cabinet with network routers and other equipment.
All systems are covered by firewalls, servers are regularly backed-up and frequently updated. Hosting is provided on servers and through the Cloud.
Ensuring SBC’s infrastructure remains cutting edge
The high capacity, resilient network presents a level of complexity rarely found on science parks and which exceeds others with simple dual external connections. It includes an intricate internal network and work is underway to upgrade the way in which occupiers connect with the infrastructure to offer them a choice of resilience levels according to their needs.
SBC holds a certificate of assurance which confirms the infrastructure and firewalls protecting occupiers’ data against cyber-attacks comply with the requirements of the government-backed Cyber Essentials scheme.
Dr Sally Ann Forsyth OBE, Chief Executive of SBC, said, “By working with partners, SBC is able to provide for the current occupier demands upon IT infrastructure, as well as anticipating the future IT requirements for bioinformation, artificial and machine learning. Planning ahead means the systems of the future will be prepared to provide increased capacity and resilience.”
SBC is partnered with Bridge Fibre for IT, which manages the infrastructure and internal IT services and has relationships with many occupiers for their own IT requirements. Good relationships are essential, as they help to keep the organisations focused on what they need today and will need in the future.
Bob Cushing, Sales and Marketing Director at Bridge Fibre, said, “SBC is one of our most important sites not just in terms of the size of the business we do in partnership, but in terms of its role in the Life Science and Science Park sectors. Having made a significant investment in its infrastructure we are able to address a much higher level of sophistication in terms of the products and services we can provide to occupiers, which is an exemplar for the sector.”
The evolving role of IT in life science companies
Robust, secure IT infrastructures are essential to life science companies. Every step in the research process requires digital support and the industry is evolving at pace to address new opportunities in the sector.
The current drug development process can be lengthy (taking up to 15 years at a cost of £1 billion) and can lead to failures resulting in high development costs and delays in new therapies reaching patients. The development of new techniques such as CRISPR-editing and the fall in the cost of sequencing and graphic processing units has resulted in a wealth of ‘-omics’ data generated. New analytic techniques are evolving to find the opportunities and leads currently missed. Life science companies need the ability to analyse large amounts of data quickly and efficiently to speed up the product pipeline and reduce research and development costs.
The application of AI to drug discovery is one of the fastest growing markets in life sciences. 72% of respondents in a 2020 pharma industry survey believed digital would drive success in achieving strategic R&D imperatives.
As the sector evolves, IT infrastructure that is able to process vast amounts of data reliably and at speed becomes ever-more critical.
The role of IT infrastructure in the future
SBC sees the role of data and AI in drug discovery as central to the development of the sector and has a long-term ambition to establish itself as a centre of excellence in drug discovery-focused data analytics.
To help realise this, SBC has implemented the DATA accelerator programme which supports early-stage start-ups and academics. This emerging cohort of new start-ups is receiving business support as well as access to investors and networks.
Through constantly evolving the services, technology and support provided to its occupiers, SBC is able to analyse its offering and make sure it is prepared for the future, especially with regard to the high data needs of emerging AI/drug discovery companies. This has enabled it to successfully build a thriving ecosystem, where biotech companies from fledgling start-ups through to mature organisations are able to thrive, accelerating the translation of cutting-edge science to improve the health and quality of people’s lives.
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By working with partners, SBC is able to provide for the current occupier demands upon IT infrastructure, as well as anticipating the future IT requirements for bioinformation, artificial and machine learning. Planning ahead means the systems of the future will be prepared to provide increased capacity and resilience.