Bridging the Valley


Written evidence submitted by Mark A Phillips (Valley 14)

I would like to make a small contribution to this inquiry and offer a number of examples, successful and not, based upon personal and close experience.


My first major experience was probably one of the most successful and concerns the translation of research from a consortium of universities (Leeds, ICSTM and Manchester) to develop tools and techniques to improve the introduction of new products in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors.

The factors that single this out were:

· It addressed a major issue that concerned industry and so there was strong industry sponsorship

· Industry was actively engaged throughout the research and development phases

The major challenge in transitioning from research to full development was that it was clear that the products needed much more development but no single company was prepared to fund this. This was largely overcome by a collaborative response including the DTI (prior to UKTI), the EPSRC and several industry sponsors, thereby spreading the investment and the risk.

This venture has now gone from strength to strength and is fully backed by industry through subscription. The reach of BRITEST has also gone beyond the UK and now operates across Europe, US and SE Asia.

In my view this spreading of investment risk is a major factor in many research to development transitions and in my own industry remains the focus of much attention.

2 - Pharmaceuticals

Much early research in the pharmaceutical industry is now conducted by a combination of universities and small biotech companies (funded by various sources) as well as by ‘big Pharma’. The effect of this is that risk is spread across several organizations, all of whom stake less, but accept a lower reward for success. The advantage is that by spreading smaller investments across many ‘bets’ the probability of some success is much greater, although the ultimate returns are not as great. This is a model that from an economic perspective is much more likely to yield a return than one where companies take big high-risk bets on a few projects.

Despite the success of major UK based pharmaceutical companies like GSK and AstraZeneca, there are precious few ‘feeder’ biotech companies in the UK and limited translation of UK University research into full development.

I suspect a key reason for this is an unrealistic expectation of reward and up front payments by both Universities and biotech for the early (and high risk) stage that the project is.

3 – Biotechnology

I am currently involved in the development of a new technology in a related field, we are working with a small ‘biotech-like’ company however their investment is limited to 1-2 parties with major interests. There are few other companies in the UK working in this field and that in itself presents other issues. Access to talent is a challenge as is access to suitable supply chain and technology partners. The current venture has required input from organizations in the Far East, USA and Europe as very few UK based companies had the capability or capacity to support it. Those UK based companies that did engage have struggled to meet many of the demands of scale-up and lacked the capacity to provide input into the development process.

In fields like high precision engineering and robotics the UK appears to lack companies of sufficient scale to engage in major manufacturing development programmes and we have had to look to Europe and the Far East to provide partners with the required capability. Ironically the ideas, design input and project management are all driven by UK companies, but as we look to translate this intellectual input into actual manufacturing capability the ‘gap’ appears.

Declaration of Interests:

I was the first Chairman of BRITEST Ltd

I am a full-time employee of GlaxoSmithKline

I am currently a visiting professor at Leeds University Business School

I am a supporter of CASE

February 2012

Prepared 20th April 2012