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Britain's biotech businesses are attracting vast amounts of cash

Venture funding for the sector hit a 10-year high of $430m in 2014.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2016

When we talk about the tech industry, it's easy to just think about things through the narrow prism of digital startups. But while Britain’s internet and software businesses are certainly enjoying a welcome surge in funding, its bio-technology has also been enjoying a (much quieter) run of good fortune.

Figures released today by the UK Bioindustry Assocation (BIA) showed that investment into life science companies hit a 10-year high in 2014 as VCs pumped money into the sector and nine companies went public. Total VC funding in 2014 was up 71% year-on-year to $430m (£280m) and the nine IPOs generated £408m, around half of all the flotation cash generated in the past decade.

‘It is clear that the UK biotech funding ecosystem has learnt lessons from its history and is doing things differently this time around.,’ said Steve Bates, CEO of the BIA. ‘We are seeing the development of different forms of investment for innovative UK companies. In contrast to the more generalist US investors, the UK’s specialist investors understand the need for patience, restocking funds while capital is plentiful, giving well-backed UK companies more financial runway to succeed.’

The figures coincided with separate research showing the value of the biotech sector to London and the south-east. Research by MedCity, a sort of biotech equivalent of the Government’s Tech City quango, showed that there are 1,896 life sciences firms in the ‘greater south-east’ (including Oxford and Cambridge), which employ 62,855 people across the country and turned over £16.6bn last year.

‘Whether it is the latest breakthrough in cancer drugs, leading laser eye surgery techniques or creating a global gold-standard for brain scanning, London is a city awash with great scientific minds and great scientific innovation,’ said London mayor Boris Johnson.

It's not all good news though. The BIA figures show that seed funding for very early stage biotech ventures has actually fallen, and the sector's turnover for the south-east actually dipped a little in 2014 - suggesting the boom in investment hasn't quite translated into strong business growth just yet.

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