This month, MedCity and the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) led a UK life sciences delegation to Japan to build on collaborations and showcase the UK as open for investment, research, and business. Over 40 people from institutions including Imperial College London, University College London, and Newcastle University; leading biotech companies; the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult; the BioIndustry Association; and the Mayor’s International Business Programme joined the delegation to make business and academic connections with our counterparts.

We started the week by co-hosting a UK Life Sciences Symposium in Tokyo with Japanese life sciences innovation network, LINK-J, and the NHSA, where we showcased the UK’s expertise in areas such as university spinouts and Big Data analytics, and we provided case studies of successful partnerships in research and commercialisation. It was well-attended by our Japanese colleagues from the health and life sciences sector, and it was great to have the support of Lord Prior of Brampton who spoke about the importance of science to the UK economy.

We then headed to Yokohama for BioJapan, Asia’s biggest bioscience conference, where we had nine UK speakers on the main programme, and were part of the UK Pavilion led by the Department for International Trade. Our UK drinks reception on the opening day was a huge success, with over 200 people attending. Thank you to Colliers and the BIA for sponsoring this; the feedback we have received is that it was very useful for informal networking and relationship building, and for doing business of course.

For those of you who haven’t been to BioJapan, it is a three-day conference of talks, partnering sessions, and hundreds of stands where companies and organisations promote their services, innovations and regions. We had lots of partnering meetings with Japanese companies, and many questions and requests direct to the UK stand, such as where to set up in the region and how to connect to specific academics in our universities.

This trip has emphasised Japan’s world-class scientific excellence, particularly in regenerative medicine, and there is great opportunity for mutual benefit as the UK is increasingly seen as a powerhouse for translational medicine. The UK is currently the fourth largest market for life sciences investment from Japan, specifically in oncology, immunotherapy and ageing and there have been 36 Foreign Direct Investment life sciences projects from Japan over the last ten years, which have generated over £170 million and 1,500 jobs in the greater south east of England.

This was our third visit to BioJapan, but our first one going as a UK contingent. It was fantastic to join with the NHSA to promote a UK offer to the Japanese market. By bringing together our regional cluster organisations, we can create a single front door for research, collaboration and investment into the UK.

We should never underestimate the importance of being out in market, developing relationships and communicating clearly that the UK is open for business. There is a real interest in the opportunities to work with our academic institutions and with our smaller companies. This mission was all about opening up the channels to allow information to be exchanged and to take that first step on a journey towards commercialisation.

The important work starts following the conference as we follow up on meetings and arrange for visits to the UK – which has already started happening as we hosted the Japanese Health Science Foundation yesterday for a tour and drinks reception!

Martin Turner, Policy and Projects Manager, BioIndustry Association:

“BioJapan was our opportunity to champion the UK bioscience sector abroad, promote the opportunities of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and send a welcoming message that we’re open for business. Refreshingly, Brexit was far from the minds of most people I met – instead I got questions about the opportunities for investment and collaboration that the UK sector can offer.”

Robin Knight, Co-Founder, IN-PART:

“Being on the Mayor’s International Business Programme and attending BioJapan enabled us to engage multiple stakeholders in a country that we are keen to establish links with. Since the trip, we are in dialogue with more than 20 universities and pharmaceutical companies in Japan interested in using IN-PART.  The MIBP and London & Partner’s team went above and beyond to help us engage with universities and companies we were interested in speaking with – my special thanks to Ken from L&P who provided ad hoc translation!”

Professor Oscar Ces, Professor in Chemical Biology, Imperial College London:

“The aim of our visit was to develop new partnerships, linking the innovation pipelines at Imperial College London with stakeholders in the Japanese biotechnology sector. With our White City Campus coming online there are now not only exciting opportunities for research collaboration but also for co-location, capitalising on ventures such as the Molecular Sciences Research Hub, the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace at the Invention Rooms and the I-Hub.

“This kind of event and the support we received is absolutely critical to making connections-during my time in Japan I was able to interact with R&D personnel, licensing strategists, company executives and business development managers from a wide variety of organisations. Since returning to the UK we have been following up on these connections and its already very clear that deep and long lasting collaborations are going to emerge from this event.