Building a thriving life sciences ecosystem in East London

Grant Bourhill, Managing Director for Barts Life Sciences

The UK is well known for its strength in life sciences research and development; however, it has experienced challenges in scaling exciting innovations developed by start-ups and academic institutions. For advances in science and technology to successfully mature and benefit patients it is crucial that holistic ecosystems exist, connecting industry and financial stakeholders with healthcare systems and, patients.

Clusters promote economic growth by bringing together organisations who can share knowledge, skills, talent, and facilities. Many of London’s well-established clusters have grown up around key academic institutions which have provided an anchor for research and development, spinning out businesses and attracting internal investment from industry who want to cluster around the innovation. Another key ingredient when it comes to building a life sciences cluster which successfully feeds into the wider healthcare ecosystem, is good connections with local hospitals and healthcare systems.

East London, once upon a time the home of dockworkers and later, financial services at Canary Wharf, today is home to a large and growing community of scientists and is well positioned as an emerging life sciences cluster. The life sciences and healthcare community in East London includes Barts Health NHS Trust, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), The Olympic Park with Cancer Research UK, UCL (University College London) East and Canary Wharf, home to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Genomics England and Kadans Science Partner’s (Kadans) London Innovation Centre, among others.

Apart from the growing community of exciting biotech and Healthtech companies in the area, there is a significant amount of infrastructure under development, including Canary Wharf Group and Kadans’ planned 823,000 sq. ft vertical campus – set to be the largest life sciences development in Europe – which will provide the community at the emerging hub with space to grow and mature. East London is also uniquely positioned with a large talent pool to feed the growing cluster and a diverse patient population.

An additional a vital component is connecting with NHS Trusts and ICSs (Integrated Care Systems) in the area to ensure that new innovations can make a difference to the local population.

Grant Bourhill, Managing Director for Barts Life Sciences, a partnership between Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London answered some questions, providing insights on how Barts Life Sciences is supporting Life Science across East London.

Grant Bourhill, Managing Director for Barts Life Sciences

Tell us about Barts Life Sciences?

Barts Life Sciences is a partnership between Barts Health NHS Trust, the largest Trust in London and consistently one of the top Trusts for commercial clinical trials, and Queen Mary University of London, one of the most cited institutions for medical research globally. We are focussed on rapid innovation translation into a healthcare setting to enable transformed health outcomes. We have a growing portfolio of collaborative projects with industry and academic partners. These have resulted in 18 trials within Barts Health to date, with 10 innovations deployed, some across multiple Trusts.

For industry, Barts Health provides a route to market and QMUL provides access to a talent pool to support growing companies. Our guiding ethos for collaboration, is that we will focus on innovations that have the potential to make a substantial difference to our patients and healthcare staff.

What difference will the planned developments at Canary Wharf and Whitechapel make?

In short – huge. The area already has excellent public sector anchor institutions and we have the world’s gene-pool on our doorstep with a diverse population of 2.5 million people representing 97 nations, but we haven’t yet combined this with world-class commercial Life Science facilities, which is what the Whitechapel and Canary Wharf developments will deliver.

Our ambition across East London is to create one of the largest, most concentrated Life Science focussed Clusters in the UK.

Canary Wharf already comprises over 20 million ft2 of office, retail and residential space. It is home to Genomics England, the MHRA, the UK HSA, the General Pharmaceutical Council and growing companies such as Aviadobio. In addition to their “vertical campus” with Kadans, Canary Wharf also have outline planning consent for a further 2.6 million ft2 of life science buildings at their North Quay development.

Whitechapel – only 5 minutes away with the Elizabeth Line – is a unique proposition, being immediately adjacent to the Royal London Hospital, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe and home to Barts Health’s new Clinical Research Facility. Whitechapel is also home to QMUL’s campus centred around the Blizard Biomedical Research Building. The location already has over 30% of the population working in healthcare and is planning a further 1.5 million ft2 of predominantly commercial Life Sciences space, but also retail, residential and community engagement space through various private sector partners including BGO & Lateral. The area has a consistently in-demand 40,000 ft2 lab incubator operated by Queen Mary Bioenterprises.

How does Barts Life Sciences work with industry and academia? What ingredients does East London require to become recognised as a life sciences hub or cluster?

We work in a high-touch way with industry and academia. We deliberately scaled our in-house technical capability in data science and health-tech for collaborative translation projects. We are also supporting the development of new assets for industry and academia, such as our new Secure Data Environment and our new 5x larger CRF for Phase I-III trials.

Many people say that the successful formula for Life Sciences Clusters is a matter of ABC – that is, Academics, Businesses, and Clinicians. In East London our focus is on accelerating innovation into practice. We therefore extend the simplistic formula to ABCD, where we are working together to Deliver improved healthcare in practice for our Diverse population. The other crucial ingredient is a shared ambition, alongside a willingness to collaborate across institutional boundaries.

How do developments such as these benefit the NHS and community?

Our community is enormously diverse, and we know that people from certain ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have a long-term condition and to suffer from more severe symptoms. Our communities also represent some of the most deprived in England, which is a further major determinant of ill-health.

These developments should reduce poverty, create high-quality jobs, provide training opportunities, whilst driving enhanced health outcomes in a community historically under-represented in research.

It is important that the community benefits from the opportunities provided by the developments. Barts Health already runs programmes such as “Healthcare Horizons” encouraging schoolchildren to pursue healthcare careers, with the initiative working across 37 schools and colleges. Barts Life Sciences and local FE Colleges have also formed “Barts Health Futures” – physical hubs providing residents training for healthcare careers. Over 500 Londoners have been trained to date, with facilities tripling by mid-2025. We also have an internship programme, connecting residents to fully paid placements in Life Science SMEs. Never-the-less, there is far more to be done and working in partnership with a range of organisations is crucial.

For the Trust, we are interested in technology enabling faster, more accurate diagnosis. For example, we have already deployed a new tool detecting heart disease from an MRI scan in just 20 seconds, compared with the average human performance of 13 minutes. We are also interested in prevention and prediction, in other words intervening before a condition becomes acute. For example, we are now trialling a new tool that can highlight 20% more patients with diabetes and 350% more patients at risk of diabetic foot, a serious vascular ailment that if left untreated frequently results in amputation. Diabetes monitoring is particularly important for our Bangladeshi and Pakistani community who have five times the rate of diabetes compared to the rest of the UK.

Building a thriving life sciences ecosystem in East London