A new £6.8 million biomedical hub will open next summer in the latest boost to Birmingham’s burgeoning life sciences sector.
The University of Birmingham facility will offer laboratory and office space for growing biomedical businesses in a move expected to create 600 jobs.
It will play a vital role in the city’s plans to grow its life sciences sector by offering space for small businesses, which will eventually grow into a fully fledged medical research campus to be built in Selly Oak.
The university is investing £3.4 million in the hub, after winning match-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
James Wilkie, director of research and innovation services at the University of Birmingham, told the Post the hub was vital to wider plans to grow employment in the healthcare sector.
He said: “It is a place where people who are running one or two-man businesses who need certain laboratory facilities but can’t afford to run them themselves, can rent a lab bench and desk and work here.
“This allows people with not much capital to run a life sciences manufacturing business.”
Dr Wilkie said the hub would contribute to wider plans to make Birmingham one of the prime locations in Europe for medical research.
It is a similar approach to the DiagnOx Laboratory in Oxfordshire, established to help improve the commercialisation of biomedical research, which he says is always full of young firms.
The hub will work with small businesses to research and build up, feeding into the Life Sciences Campus, which is part of the Sainsbury’s development in Selly Oak.
He said it would mean more patient trials and medical business opportunities in the city, while growing medical firms would benefit from wider help and support through Birmingham Research Park.
He said this holistic approach has been proven by specialist protein company The Binding Site, which span out of the university.
“We have done it before, but almost by accident,” Dr Wilkie said.
“The accident was the Binding Site. It was founded by Jo Bradwell, who was an academic in the medical school, and he took a small unit here at the research park and fitted it out and grew the business on this site.
“Eventually there was nowhere for the business to grow into so he found a shed elsewhere in Birmingham and continued to grow. Now they have new facilities near Five Ways.
“That is the idea. We have offer a place for small companies and then for companies employing 50 to 100, and then with the life sciences campus being built, as companies grow they can move down the road.”
David Coleman, head of spin-out companies at the university, added: “We are already helping entrepreneurs with things like accessing investors and IP expertise.
“A big part of this is bringing them together at the university, working with the academics.”
The Biomedical Innovation Hub is expected to create 100 jobs directly and 500 more in the supply chain.
However, Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council, said it was just the start and life sciences was fast-becoming “a great jewel in Birmingham’s economic crown”.
The city’s Life Sciences Economic Zone sets out to make the most out of expertise at Birmingham University and Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and the Post has previously reported it is an area that has courted much interest from foreign investors, particularly in the US.
He said: “Life sciences has been identified as a sector which can help add significant growth and jobs to the city’s economy, and help Birmingham compete globally for investment.
“The establishment of the hub in 2014 will be a significant step forward in developing the city’s Life Science Economic Zone, and will hopefully then be followed shortly thereafter with the opening of a new Institute for Translational Medicine in 2015, and the establishment of a new Life Sciences Campus thereafter – kicking off one of the biggest investment drives the sector has ever seen in Birmingham.”
Communities Minister Baroness Stowell of Beeston said it was worthy of ERDF funding, which is managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
She said: “It’s important that we show our support for interesting and exciting projects such as this and I am delighted to be able to provide this.”