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GE Healthcare Opens Startup Labs at Former AstraZeneca UK R&D Site

Xconomy National — 

The doors have opened at a GE Healthcare-supported open-access lab for startups at AstraZeneca’s former global center for oncology research and development at Alderley Park, the largest bioscience research campus in the UK.

The AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) site in Macclesfield, UK, housed 3,500 staff and was instrumental in developing a number of its cancer drugs including tamoxifen (Nolvadex), goserelin (Zoladex), bicalutamide (Casodex), anastrozole (Arimidex), and gefitinib (Iressa).

But in 2013, the Anglo-Swedish big pharma firm exited the site as part of a restructuring that moved its global R&D center and corporate headquarters to Cambridge, UK. Public-private partnership and science park operator Manchester Science Parks (MSP) acquired Alderley Park for an undisclosed fee and has since transformed the 400-acre site into a biopark, supporting life science companies and biotech startups across the development life cycle.

GE Healthcare Life Sciences—which is in the midst of being acquired by Danaher Corporation for $21 billion —is no stranger to investing in biotech startup incubators and training facilities. The firm pumped $11.5 million into a biotech production and training facility at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia, earlier this year. The year prior, GE opened its Testa Center at its own site in Uppsala, Sweden, offering a facility for academia and industry to test and evaluate biological innovations. A GE-funded lab at the Stevenage BioScience Catalyst, UK, a similar model to the Alderley Park project, has also been operational for a number of years.

And on the biomanufacturing front, the firm has been instrumental in supporting the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing (JIB), an educational and training facility in Pennsylvania that recently opened its doors, and its partner site, the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), in Ireland.

“We believe that collaborations with startup and emerging biotechnology companies are critical to advancing the industry,” Conor McKechnie, chief marketing officer, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, tells Xconomy.

“By combining our expertise and the entrepreneurial spirit of the startup and emerging biotech community, we can help accelerate their science. Being firmly connected to, embedded in and supportive of science innovation in biotech campuses makes good business sense for us, and we do good business by doing good.”

McKechnie says GE learns from the startups it supports, gaining access to early expertise and technology as well as “gaining insight into technology and science trends.” Being a biotech vendor involved in early-stage companies is also likely to nurture future strategic partnerships and long-term contracts for GE.

No longer dominated by AstraZeneca, Alderly Park now consists of a cluster of innovation-based life science businesses ranging from pharma firms, biotechs, diagnostics firms, contract research organizations, and medical device companies, employing more than 2,000 skilled workers. The Medicines Discovery Catapult, the UK’s Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) Centre, and the CRUK Manchester Institute, are among the park’s residents.

“Alderley Park has a long-held global reputation for innovation and a strong history of drug discovery,” Kath Mackay, managing director, Alderley Park, tells Xconomy. “As the UK’s largest single site bioscience campus and the former international headquarters of leading pharmaceutical business AstraZeneca, Alderley Park is deeply rooted in the scientific research community.”

Part of Bruntwood SciTech, a UK-based property portfolio focused on the science and technology sector, the park is undergoing re-development with more than £200 million ($260 million) of investment into high specification labs, offices, and the provision of scientific services.

The latest offering to emerge from this redevelopment is an open-access lab at Alderley Park’s Mereside Campus, which opened its doors on Oct. 30.

“GE is providing the lab with a number of its advanced protein and cell analysis technologies including ÄKTA systems for protein purification, Biacore 8K for drug discovery, and IN Cell Analyzer 6500HS for cellular imaging,” McKechnie, says. “The GE team will also train people on using the equipment and share their expertise.”

There are approximately 200 companies based at Alderley Park’s Mereside campus, across the whole life science spectrum, and all tenants will have access to the lab and its technology, he continued.

“The lab is approximately 45 square meters,” McKechnie says. “Each system can be booked individually, so six companies will be able to operate simultaneously. So far, 28 companies have expressed interested in using the lab space to advance their organization’s science and R&D.”

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