Cambridge leads UK march towards global genomics dominance

The Genomics Nation report published by the UK BioIndustry Association, the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and Medicines Discovery Catapult showcases the strengths and opportunities of a vibrant UK ecosystem of entrepreneurs, spin-outs and scale-ups. It focuses on a period from 2012-2022.

Genomics companies are generating billions in revenue and employing many hundreds of staff and both of these factors are only going to grow.

Cambridge dominates the pantheon of top investors in the UK genomics cluster. The University of Cambridge’s Seed Funds are top with 15 deals, the Cambridge Enterprise funds second with 12 – equal with Cambridge Innovation Capital and two ahead of Amadeus Capital Partners, co-founded by Cambridge serial entrepreneur Dr Hermann Hauser.

Parkwalk’s Opportunities EIS fund – with strong links to Cambridge – is next, ahead of Crowdcube, then comes the Cambridge Angels network. Cambridge edges Oxford to top the rankings of leading spin-out universities. 

The report says: “The top three investors in this sector are entities with strong links to the University of Cambridge – once again emphasising the important role played by those institutions commercialising academic research within the genomic community.”

Genomics companies are most prevalent in the East of England  which has almost twice as many players as its nearest rival, London – 1,045 to 532. The South East is on 189 and the North West with 73 is a standout from other UK regions. The top three clusters together account for 69 per cent of the nation’s active genomics company population.

The report adds that The largest of these subsectors in terms of the volume of venture investment secured between 2017 and 2021 is sequencing and genomic technologies. 

This is largely due to various fundraising rounds hosted by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, genome sequencing technology research and producer Cambridge Epigenetix and QuantuMDx, a developer of molecular medical devices.

Diagnostics hosts the greatest number of companies, with 34 active genomics businesses falling within its scope. The second largest subsector is therapeutics representing 28 active companies with 335 employees. 

While there are fewer sequencing companies (23) this presents the largest subsector by employment with 523 people. The sampling subsector is the second biggest employer with 452 headcount. 

The report adds: “The various subsectors rely on highly trained lab and data scientists, which are needed across the broader genomics ecosystem in academia, charities, research institutes, the NHS and public diagnostics labs.” Finding such a broad spread and high number of candidates to fill vacancies as the reach of genomics spreads is a major challenge, of course – including in Cambridge.

The report adds that genomics companies outperform their life science peers at attracting both public and private investment. New data shows that UK genomics companies have raised £1.9 billion of venture investment and £35.7 million in public grants since 2017.

Steve Bates, chief executive of the BIA, said: “Innovative UK Genomics companies are vital to the future wealth of our nation. With the right investment, skilled people and partnership working with the NHS family, UK small and medium sized enterprises are ideally placed to be key global players in the growing subsectors within genomics such as functional genomics, epigenetics, transcriptomics and pharmacogenomics.  

“The application and industrialisation of this technology is transforming both healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. Our growing industry needs great people who can use computational and data science skills to deliver our transforming health projects.”

As Business Weekly reported last week, the Wellcome Sanger Institute is working with global partners after establishing a new superhub for genomic surveillance to fight infectious diseases such as SARS-Cov-2. malaria and many others. It is fitting that the new nervecentre should be anchored in the Cambridge Cluster. US genomics powerhouse Illumina is thriving in Cambridge having grown like Topsy since buying Solexa for $600m in late 2006. Solexa was founded by Cambridge scientists Shanklar Balasubramanian and David Klenerman.

And it arguably all began here when Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA in Cambridge. Sanger, of course, went on to lead the worldwide effort in mapping the human genome.