Posted on 4 March 2003
York’s flagship Biocentre was opened formally by the Duke of Edinburgh in February. The £7 million Biocentre is a key component in Yorkshire’s Bioscience Cluster, which is centred on York.
The Biocentre exists to provide a supportive environment for start-up biotechnology companies, with dedicated ACDP Cat 2 and Cat 3 capability laboratories and managed workspace. Yorkshire Forward has invested £2 million in the Biocentre, seeing it as a catalyst for business growth in the region’s bioscience cluster. More than 3,000 life scientists now work in York and its surrounding area.
The Biocentre is one of three ‘incubator’ and ‘accelerator’ buildings operating or being constructed on York Science Park, all of which are managed by York Science Park (Innovation Centre) Ltd. The Biocentre, the Innovation Centre (which opened in 1994) and the IT Centre (open later this year), together provide 100,000 sq ft of incubation space for start-up companies. A wide range of services is available to tenants, including fully-furnished office suites, conferencing facilities, reception and secretarial support, legal, financial and business strategy advice, and flexible all-inclusive rental terms. Once established, businesses are expected to move into independent premises and release space for other start-up companies.
The Biocentre’s first tenant was Ribotargets, a high-tech therapeutics company. Ribotargets develops novel anti-bacterial and anti-cancer drugs using X-ray diffraction techniques and high speed computers. Headed by Rod Hubbard, Director of Structural Sciences for RiboTargets and Professor of Structural Biology at the University of York, the operation has been set up to utilise the world renowned expertise of the University's Structural Biology Laboratory.
RiboTargets, who are headquartered in Cambridge, have installed specialised X-ray diffraction and computing equipment to determine high-resolution protein structures at high throughput. Professor Hubbard's team of specialist structural biologists demonstrated their expertise by elucidating the crystal structures of various ligands bound to the chaperone protein, HSP90. This research was completed within two weeks of the team moving into the facility and forms part of RiboTargets' portfolio of anti-cancer therapeutics programmes. The HSP90 study is being performed in collaboration with the Institute of Cancer Research.
Simon Sturge, RiboTargets' CEO, commented, "York has a concentration of structural biology expertise, the infrastructure and a world-class reputation for research, that makes it the natural choice for locating this research and development centre. The work being carried out will accelerate our discovery activities, particularly in anti-cancer."
Xceleron, a University spin-off company, has just moved its headquarters to the Biocentre. The company, which has a massive accelerator mass spectrometer at the Central Science Laboratory in York, has pioneered the use of nanotechnology in drugs development.
Identifying promising drugs that could lead to life saving cures in the future can take eight to ten years and cost as much as £200 million. The AMS can investigate large numbers of drugs for pharmaceutical companies, significantly speeding up drug development by quickly identifying the most promising. In some cases it may cut development time by up to six months. The company has just signed a new three-year agreement with GlaxoSmithKline.
“Xceleron has been instrumental in using new European regulations on drug development which reduces the use of animals in drug safety testing and makes human clinical studies safer,” said Chief Executive, Professor Colin Garner.
We also hope that larger companies may wish to relocate to York in order to tap into the expertise that we will establish in this area of science
Dr David Goodall
Another tenant is Analytical Science, a team based in the University of York’s Chemistry Department. They are developing instrumentation and techniques for studying complex mixtures of substances in cells, work which is set to benefit a host of other bioscience projects. “We are currently learning a great deal about genes through the various genome projects," said Dr David Goodall. "We're now entering the post-genomic era and moving into proteomics, where the key challenges are to identify the proteins made by the genes. The way in which proteins behave and are modified in the cell affects the body's response to disease and the efficacy of drugs.
"Clearly we need a much better understanding of the whole cell, and a holistic view of how the genes, proteins and small molecules interact with each other.
"What we plan to achieve with this team is the development of tools and techniques which will help other scientists understand protein functions in areas ranging from plant growth to bladder cancer, and help identify the proteins and small molecules to be used as markers for disease."
These developments could lead to the formation of a number of spin-off companies as the real-life applications of these techniques become apparent. "We also hope that larger companies may wish to relocate to York in order to tap into the expertise that we will establish in this area of science," says Dr Goodall.
“National and local economic strategies put universities at the heart of the knowledge-based economy,” said the Biocentre’s Managing Director, Susanne Walker. “With three key buildings dedicated to supporting small start-up companies, York Science Park and its partners is demonstrating the practical reality of that. We hope the Biocentre will be home to many future highly-successful biotech companies.” Professor Brian Cantor, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York said: “The Biocentre is important for the University as it offers opportunity for spin-off companies and demonstrates the University’s role as an economic generator. It is important for York because it highlights York’s future as a science city. And it is important for the region because it is a key part of the bioscience cluster.
Chief Executive of Yorkshire Forward Martin Havenhand said: “We at Yorkshire Forward are committed to the principle of bioscience and have selected the bioscience cluster as a priority for investment and promotion. We want to encourage higher productivity, more new business formation, greater innovation and increased inward investment. Bioscience is expected to show extremely strong growth worldwide and there is real potential within the region - it is important to harness it.”