Powering regional growth: the Cambridge cluster

Sunil Shah, CEO of o2h Ventures.png

Our burgeoning life sciences sector contributes £94 billion to the UK’s economy each year and employs over 280,000 people.  But did you know that Cambridge as a region is home to one of the world’s most successful life sciences and biotechnology hubs? 

In this blog, Sunil Shah, CEO of o2h Ventures, collaborates with Intelligent Partnership to explore the potential impact of the Cambridge region life sciences sector.

Otherwise known as the ‘Cambridge Cluster’, the region has evolved over time into a global hub for innovation that is recognised today to be on par with other world-leading biotech clusters, such as Boston and San Francisco. The region’s success can largely be attributed to an exceptional talent pipeline fed by the University of Cambridge, its abundance of science parks and incubators, university spin-outs, and a strong VC landscape that has created a thriving ecosystem for innovation.  

Furthermore, Cambridge’s world class status is further enhanced by being part of the ‘Golden Triangle’, formed by the university cities of Oxford, London and Cambridge. According to a recent report by Beauhurst, an impressive 65% of high-growth life sciences companies are based within this specific region.

o2h Ventures is spearheading the charge for regional VC biotech investment into Cambridge, with a team at the helm collectively holding over 75 years of combined grassroots experience in the sector. Operating from The Mill SciTech Park in Cambridge, o2h Ventures has backed more than 60% of its portfolio into Cambridge-based biotech businesses or Cambridge University spin-outs. It was the first fund to obtain the coveted knowledge-intensive EIS approval status from HMRC, given the team’s presence in the sector. 

What are knowledge-intensive approved EIS funds?

Knowledge-intensive (KI) approved EIS funds specialise in investing in companies that prioritise research and development (R&D) and must allocate a significant portion of their costs to R&D. For a fund to qualify as a KI approved fund, it must meet specific conditions set out by HMRC and 80% of its investments must be in “knowledge-intensive” companies. 

Operating in the same way as a usual EIS fund, investors are able to claim up to 30% income tax relief on KI EIS investments. The main attraction, however, is that a K EIS fund is already HMRC-approved, meaning that the investment date for tax purposes is the tax year of the fund close, as opposed to the tax year in which funds are deployed. The advantage of this? Investors are not relying on the speed of deployment and can target a specific tax year to receive income tax year and carry back one year earlier than with a typical EIS.

In addition, investors in KI funds can expect to receive a single EIS5 certificate issued by the fund once it has invested 90% of its capital, which it is required to do within 24 months of fund close. This differs vastly for investors in non-approved funds who can expect to receive individual EIS3 certificates for each investee company as and when deployment of capital occurs.

The UK biotech sector has impressive potential to scale with remarkable opportunities given Britain's deep science base however, we often see these opportunities being seized by larger overseas companies due to the scarcity of financial resources, incentives, and other essential support systems. Our mission is to address this issue head-on and develop a strong pipeline of innovative drugs with companies that can scale and develop medicines poised to make a significant impact on human health.

Why invest in biotech?

The Covid-19 pandemic undeniably shone a light on the importance of biotech as a sector and how supporting investment into the field is crucial for the long-term success of bringing new drugs to the marketplace. 

Record levels of investment into biotech were witnessed globally across 2020/2021 during the peak of the pandemic and this consequently dipped moving into 2022. This was not entirely unexpected as the world began to move away from the initial urgency the pandemic presented and the accompanying investor enthusiasm. 

Taking a longer-term view however, the sector has demonstrated extraordinary growth in the last 10 years and has outperformed other sectors, including pharmaceuticals and tech, in both venture capital and public markets.   In addition, investment into the broader healthcare sector continues to present compelling growth opportunities and a report by PWC UK and BMS has revealed that increased investment into healthcare has the potential to add £45-90 billion to the UK economy.

This market sentiment has been mirrored by the government’s unwavering commitment to cement the UK’s place as a “global life sciences superpower” by 2030. In May earlier this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced an ambitious Life Sci for Growth’ package to shape policy and bring renewed funding to core areas of focus, such as £121 million to improve commercial clinical trials and bring new medicines to patients faster. 

Powering regional investment

To position the UK as a global biotech leader, it is crucial to foster the growth and strength of the local biotech community. This begins at a grassroots level and entails building relationships with US investors, thereby facilitating collaboration and knowledge exchange.

By embracing these strategies and fuelling economic growth across the regions, the UK can unlock its biotech potential, drive innovation, and pave the way for a prosperous future as a prominent player in the global biotech landscape.

o2h Ventures is playing a vital role in this and according to recent data published by the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) was recognised as one of the top 10 VC investors in UK biotech financing in 2022. The team has backed 28 early-stage biotech companies over the past three years, making investments into critical fields such as oncology, anti-ageing, genomics, neuroscience, and digital therapeutics. 

The o2h human health EIS knowledge-intensive fund is currently open for investment which aims to build a diverse portfolio for investors with an initial portfolio of 5-10 unquoted and/or AIM-listed companies. Actively seeking out companies that operate at the forefront of innovation, the team strongly believes in the power of the life sciences industry to improve human health and help drive the UK’s economic growth.


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