How CROs and Cloud Labs will Boost UK Life Science SMEs


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The chances of finding a commercially viable solution to scientific innovation are slim. It is a long-term, expensive and resource intensive pursuit.

This, as I’ve written before, complicates the funding environment and creates demand for novel financing tools as well as the need for patient investors.

There are two trends that have the potential to dramatically reduce the time, labour investment and capital outlay needed for drug and treatment discovery.

Partially or completely outsourced models are now being used to disintegrate once-integrated drug discovery models.

Contract Research Organisations (CROs), although not a new phenomenon in the UK, have been steadily growing in popularity over the last few years.

They provide lab services, expertise in drug discovery, services and assays to a variety of full-service providers and niche services.

A CRO makes it possible for teams to rapidly begin and scale the discovery process, without having to rent or buy lab space. It’s worth bearing in mind that 42% of biotech SMEs have less than five employees.

The UK’s Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC), which is based at Alderley Park, already has a Virtual R&D Discovery platform that connects SMEs with one of 22 CRO partners to boost growth.

CROs offer services to larger pharmaceutical operators as well, due to the availability of capacity or the desire to adopt leaner operating methods.

CROs provide more than flexible, outsourced capacity. Many are life science companies that have a high level of innovation and can play a significant role in developing new models and tests for predictive research.

The second, more futuristic trend is cloud labs. Here, scientists perform their own wet lab experiments but remotely with a team of robots, overseen by some human lab technicians, doing the work – sometimes hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

The robot’s proponents claim that it is more accurate and repeatable, as the robots execute exact lines of code every time. They can also do it around the clock, increasing productivity.

It will depend on your personal preference and the circumstances. For example, CROs can help with design studies, but you will need to do this for your robots in the cloud labs. The tech behind cloud labs still has some way to go before it is applicable across all CRO areas.

Cloud labs are a natural vehicle for many CROs. They are willing to invest as the market develops.

It’s largely a Stateside phenomenon for now but the opportunities in the UK, with its world class scientific infrastructure and $1 trillion tech industry that is behind only the US and China, are obvious. These sectors are strong in Britain, and Britain has many cities, not just London, but Manchester, Birmingham Glasgow, Leeds, Glasgow, Leeds, and other places. This adds to their potential.

Meanwhile, the UK’s growing and vibrant CRO ecosystem is continuing to expand with many scientists drawn to work at revenue generating businesses that deliver highly innovative work. This encourages greater collaboration among individual innovation districts across the country, which allows the UK to take advantage of its compact geography to create something greater than its parts.


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