The “Golden Triangle” of biotech

You’ll know Tom Bulford by now – he’s our point man on the booming biotech industry.

You’ll know Tom Bulford by now – he’s our point man on the booming biotech industry.

Tom’s been immersed in this stuff for years now. So when he tells me that there’s something important happening in his area, I sit up and pay attention.

He’s releasing a new report next week on what he’s calling a huge new “megatrend” within the biotech industry.

Naturally, I want Penny Sleuth readers to get in on this. So if you put your name down here, you’ll get a free email series showing you everything you need to know.

And more importantly, you’ll get first mover advantage when the report comes out next week.

You can get your name down for it here.

In the meantime, here’s an extract from an essay Tom wrote last week about the global capital of the biotech industry: Southern England…

In the meantime, here’s an extract from an essay Tom wrote last week about the global capital of the biotech industry: Southern England…

Billions and billions are being invested in the “Golden Triangle” of biotech

A guest essay by Tom Bulford

A lot of the cutting-edge biotech research in the UK is done in the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, of London, Oxford and Cambridge. These cities contain four of the world’s top eight medical schools: Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and UCL. Their research efforts are powered by an annual income of £1.4bn.

It is little wonder that the world’s big biotechnology companies watch these universities with keen interest, ready to pounce on any breakthrough that could be the seed of a business. Many of those companies have made the strategic decision to work with
outside research institutions rather than undertake the expensive and risky task of developing their own new products.

There has never been a better time to be a university boffin with an eye for the main chance.

Investors who wish to know what lies ahead need to keep a careful eye on university campuses. Luckily, I’ve done that on your behalf! In the last fortnight, both Oxford and Cambridge have hosted their own science festivals, and I have been to a number of events at both, talking to professors and researchers about upcoming discoveries in healthcare.

I’ve put together a report on what’s going on at those universities, two of Britain’s greatest centres of Biotech research. I listened and spoke to some of the leading experts in their fields and learned a few things I never knew before…

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The crucible of biotech

The local economies of Oxford and Cambridge are booming. Money has been pouring in. According to a new survey by Peel Hunt, $2.9bn was invested in the UK’s Life Sciences sector last year with companies in the Golden Triangle grabbing over half of venture financing.

So many of Britain’s most important medical and biological research centres are located in these two cities. World famous centres include Cambridge’s Sanger Institute, named after Sir Frederick Sanger who first found a way of sequencing DNA.

Another renowned centre in Cambridge is the Babraham Institute, founded after the War to investigate animal physiology with the aim of improving food production. Today it studies cell and molecular biology to try to understand the process of ageing.

Professor Wolf Reik is an expert in epigenetics, those factors that determine gene expression. Last year AstraZeneca moved its UK research centre to Cambridge, where it joins Gilead, Arm Holdings, Microsoft and Google and a host of other multinational companies all keen to tap into the expertise of the university.

The ideas everyone were talking about

Some ideas seemed to come up again and again. One of them was molecular medicine.

Take the case of Fabrice Muamba. Professor Hugh Watkins is a specialist in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the condition that so nearly proved fatal for footballer Fabrice Muamba. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a thickening of the heart muscle; it can go unnoticed, but is potentially a killer.

Now, thanks to the work of Professor Watkins, we know that this is a genetic condition that is inherited by humans and, for that matter, by cats. Any child of someone with HCM has a 50% chance of inheriting the condition.

This is a great example of the new world of molecular medicine, in which we do not simply find drugs through screening programs that are just a huge exercise in trial and error. Instead we actually find out what is going wrong, right from the very origin of the disease, plot the ‘pathway’ from the DNA through the cell and devise drugs precisely to fix the problem.

Gleevec is another example of ‘Golden Triangle’ success

At the Oxford Science Fair, he explained how it works: Phagocytes are cells that go around our body hoovering up dead or unwanted cells or bacteria. They should eat up cancer cells, but the latter are smart and send out ‘don’t eat me’ signals. These are markers on the cell surface that prevent the phagocytes from locking on to them.

Researchers have now designed a new drug that blocks this ‘don’t eat me’ signal, thus preventing the cancer cells from repelling the phagocytes. This approach is an immunotherapy, meaning that it allows the cancer cells to be killed by the body’s own immune system.

This is, of course, terrifically complicated. I am lucky enough to live in Oxford where the University’s Institute of Adult Education, the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and the Oxford Biotechnology Network host a series of events that publicise the work of the University in the field of biotechnology.

In fact I have signed up for a series of evening classes about the new approaches to cancer treatment! This is a very exciting time in biotechnology and our top universities are at the forefront of progress.

Tom Bulford
for Breakthrough Biotech Alert

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