In conversation: London as a supercluster
The launch of SC1 London’s Life Sciences Innovation District earlier this month gave us reason to reflect on the maturing of London’s life sciences districts into distinct clusters. If London is becoming a geography of clusters, focused around academic and research centres of excellence, it is possible to start thinking of the city as a ‘supercluster’. This brings challenges. How does each cluster develop a clear identity, serving the needs of its local community, while still being part of a cohesive London and broader UK offering to attract investment?
To discuss this and other aspects of London clustering activity, we brought together SC1 Executive Director Georgina Rizik and MedCity CEO Neelam Patel. We asked Georgina to begin the conversation by explaining the vision for SC1.
With SC1, we have a world class university in Kings College London, three incredible NHS Trusts (Guy’s and St Thomas’ now incorporating Royal Brompton and Harefield, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley), the strength of the Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation and the privilege of being embedded in both Lambeth and Southwark, with two very diverse patient populations. Between 120-150 languages are spoken in those two boroughs, which are actively engaged with the growth of SC1. Our vision creates a transformative life science ecosystem in central London dedicated to innovation, creative partnerships and improving life for our local and global communities.
When you break down this statement, our unique qualifier becomes quite evident. Not only do we want to lead in innovation, but we want to make sure that it translates to the local community and eventually become a global exemplar for such impact. Ultimately, what will solidify SC1 as a globally renowned district is how we re-imagine innovation and health equity in our key initiatives.
SC1 sits in a brilliant position where they’re partnered with local authorities, healthcare systems and Kings College London, which gives them an open door to bring these areas together and support the boroughs’ healthcare sector, while growing the skills within these local communities. Our Community & Cluster Dynamics Report showed that life sciences clusters can be powerful agents of change locally and beyond. SC1 has the perfect model to do that, and I think the starting point for a cluster is understanding what your assets are, so that you can build around them in terms of both driving investment and involving the community.
I agree, you can’t form good strategies, or organizations for that matter, until you have a foundational understanding of what currently exists. This is critical to helping us succeed – knowing what’s already there and working very well, what we can build on, and what needs to be developed moving forward, to ensure it aligns with our mandate to reimagine innovation and health equity. And we’re very grateful to MedCity for the work you are doing mapping these capabilities.
We have had many conversations across London, focusing on how MedCity can better showcase some of the strengths of London. It really took Lambeth, with a vision of leveraging life sciences, and using a fund for development and regeneration, to put two and two together, and that’s when the conversation arose about utilising MedCity to map life sciences assets for the borough. The project we’re now undertaking around asset mapping is just one aspect; another is a partnership with Capital Enterprise to attract more businesses into the region; and another part is maintaining the growth of these companies so that the region can continue to promote itself to a wider audience.
I definitely see MedCity as a very important partner to amplify our presence. And if you amplify us in London, it can also help amplify us on a global scale, because I do believe that SC1 can become the gold standard in London. We know that there is competition, but I do think we need that to help innovate. I do think it’s important for each cluster to develop its own value proposition to effectively innovate and focus, versus trying to be everything to everyone, which just doesn’t work. When you have that oversight of what different clusters are doing, you might be able to effectively manage it.
You raise a good point there, because, apart from convening and supporting clusters, we are a neutral player. There is an obvious risk, that in our aim to simplify navigation and put London on the map cohesively, it could be detrimental if districts develop independently. On the other hand, of course districts need to develop independently because there are regional needs that are diverse. The answer to that – and the opportunity – is establishing relationships with key individuals, and understanding partnerships and what we can do for each other. We’ve talked about some of the examples of positioning clusters for their strengths and their needs, which may be different and unique because of the geographical reach there is. So there are plenty of opportunities, and I’m confident that, in convening clusters, we can have some of those high level discussions.
I think my perspective on that comes back to how each cluster really needs to have a non-negotiable foundation. With SC1, we have the privilege of a very integrated foundation, not only with KCL and the three NHS Trusts, the Foundation, but also with the two boroughs. For us, that is a unique base that’s very robust and integrated. On top of that, we have three geographical hubs in central London, in close proximity to government, world class cultural institutions, businesses and transport links: our Biomedical Hub at London Bridge; our MedTech Hub at Westminster Bridge; and Denmark Hill, where our Translation Hub brings together the world’s leading concentration of mind and body research. This foundation is critical, along with prioritising some key initiatives that resonate with our local community, the start-up community, and all the stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem. Lastly, we have a robust estate development strategy that will facilitate the co-location and collaboration of all stakeholders within the healthcare ecosystem, with the local community at the heart of it. The depth and breadth of this offering in some of the most stunning and culturally-relevant parts of central London solidifies that we are ‘open for business’.
Going to the SC1 launch was fantastic, because it seemed like the first time there’s a real structure around a cluster, which is a brilliant thing. However, London still needs a voice – a cohesive London offer is important for both national and international exposure. Competition is great – as you say – because it drives innovation. So we’re not about reducing that competition; we’re about bringing clusters together, so that these clusters don’t need to duplicate effort. There are some things that are not competitive, but administrative, and together we can work through ways that save time and resources to do that.
Georgina, you spoke about the great population pool that you have and the needs attached to that, and we know how challenging it is to get that inclusion and diversity into innovation development and clinical trials. MedCity can bring a voice to national policy makers, representing some of these challenges, which is much more impactful than individuals doing it off their own back. So I think there are a few things that we can do to advance what other clusters are doing. Another thing that’s important, and one of MedCity’s remits, is connecting those clusters of excellence to other regions that may not have those ingredients, so that all communities in London benefit from life sciences.
MedCity plays a role as a connector, both internationally (an example being our deep relationships with Japan and Korea, providing a platform for UK life science engagement) and nationally, with regional clusters such as the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA). These links help innovation that is born in a region to scale; these links help to ‘level up’ geographies, so that all benefit from science and research.