Established by Innovate UK, Catapult centres were set up from 2011 onwards following the publication of an influential report in 2010 as part of the Government’s long-term Industrial Strategy to promote research and development through business-led collaboration. There are currently 10 not-for-profit Catapults across the UK, each one specialising in a different area of technology and expertise, including in the life sciences sector.

At our inaugural Bio Integrates conference, we raised the question: Is Industry getting the most out of the Catapults? The response was a resounding “Yes!”, and here is why.

The Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) Catapult was set up in 2012 to advance the growth of the UK cell and gene therapy industry, by bridging the gap between scientific research and full-scale commercialisation. A £60 million Manufacturing Centre was subsequently opened in 2018 at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, the success of which (£5.2m invested in cell and gene therapy projects in the past year) has led to an additional £15 million investment by the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge fund which will double the manufacturing capacity and provide skills and training. There is even cross-catapult collaboration, with the CGT and High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapults working together to develop intelligent production systems, to ensure the supply of new therapies over the next 15 years.

More recently, the Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) was founded at Alderley Park in 2015, providing unique scientific capabilities and supporting SMEs to accelerate innovative drug discovery. In a report published by MDC and BIA this year, it was revealed the medicines discovery sector alone increased turnover by £3.3bn and created 47 new businesses between 2016 and 2017.

As a co-founder and member, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) is currently the process manufacturing partner of the HVM Catapult. A leading independent technology innovation centre, CPI led and partnered on over £18 million worth of contract research and development projects during 2017 and 2018, enabling further investments of more than £20 million for SMEs in collaborative projects.

What is the key to the Catapults’ success? CGT Catapult CBO, Matthew Durdy, says it is their ethos for collaboration: “It is in our DNA”. Expanding on this, MDC CEO Chris Molloy highlighted the role of Catapults in driving innovation adoption, pointing out that 25% of the world’s 100 top-selling drugs were discovered in the UK, and summing it up with the analogy: “You cannot steer a parked car. You need to get it moving.”

There is no doubt that the Catapults programme is performing well, operating £968 million of open access research and demonstration facilities for both industry and academia, supporting nearly 6000 SMEs and delivering over 4000 industry collaborations since its inception less than 10 years ago. With no sign of the pace of innovation slowing, can Catapults (and the enabling Government funding) sustain the momentum?

Catapults also have logistical hurdles to face. With drug development moving away from an integrated model and towards several different specialist providers, this impacts the speed and nature of the supply chain to the patient, making fast tracking products to patients a challenge.

These issues will be discussed at our Pharma Integrates conference in November. Sessions will include addressing the supply chain need for advanced therapies to get them to patients more quickly, accelerating early-stage productivity in drug development and manufacturing for the future. Why not join us there?

Want to learn more? Audio from all the roundtable discussions, breakout sessions and keynote presentations at Bio Integrates is available here.