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Investment in science innovation in Birmingham

Above: Birmingham Health Innovation Campus in foreground (with buildings as CGI), with main Edgbaston campus of Birmingham University on right, and Queen Elizabeth Hospital top left - image from Bruntwood.

Our 'Science, healthcare and research' panel at Birmingham focused on the new innovation campus being built by The University of Birmingham and Bruntwood SciTech at Selly Oak, close to where the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the University of Birmingham already have a strong presence.

Questions were asked around whether the campus will develop green transport infrastructure for connectivity, who will become the future tenants of the campus and how the city can provide the right testing bed for new medicines.

Professor Gino Martini brought insight to our discussion on the flexible facilities being offered for start-ups at the campus, while architect at BDP Ronan Connelly spoke about the need for multi-modal transport networks for connectivity, John Prevc, Director and Regional Lead for Planning at HOK spoke on sustainable planning for science campuses, while Head of Business Development at the University of Birmingham, Richard Fox, described the need to retain scientists over the long term, if the drive on innovation is to be successful.

Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC), is set to become a world-leading life sciences campus. Due to open in 2023, it will offer high quality laboratory, office, incubation and innovation facilities for forward-thinking businesses and will be part of an integrated, physically connected critical cluster of patient-centred health excellence.

The campus is being delivered through a long-term collaboration between the University of Birmingham, as landowner, and experienced investor-developers Bruntwood SciTech. It will become the only science park in the region dedicated to health and life sciences, sitting at the heart of a critical cluster of health excellence, led by BHP, creating opportunities for transformative collaborations between businesses, the University and NHS partners.

Professor Gino Martini, Managing Director of Precision Health Technologies Accelerator, said:

'The co-location of the University and hospital at the site is a great strength. We were able to de-contaminate land for the building and it will create 10,000 new jobs and have a GVA of half a million pounds. A station has been built there to serve the Commonwealth Games, so there will be good connectivity. It will be a campus for change and will work to reduce inequality.

'It is important to make sure the right drugs get to the right people. We discovered during the pandemic how ethnicity responds very differently to drugs and we have a stable and varied population in Birmingham which we can use to test and refine medicines. This is a very different environment to say a city like London where there is a transient population, which isn't so helpful for this type of research. I want to make sure that people in the West Midlands region get the right medicines.

'I am trying to stimulate innovation, providing flexible lab space for companies to expand. We have often lost people to places like Wales and Manchester but we want to stop that. These companies often become good employers and fill a place in an ecosystem of ideas. If you have research next to a hospital, people always benefit. This is not a big pharma play, we are an accelerator giving businesses access to clinicians and academics. We need private investment to make us independent. I know this will succeed and it is more affordable to live here in Birmingham than say the Golden Triangle. We have a lot of women graduates from the STEM sector and we are making sure that this facility also helps local people with skills training so that they can succeed in these careers.'

The architecture firm BDP has varied experience in both hospital and transport design. Associate, Ronan Connelly, advised the discussion group about the need for multi-modal transport, if science parks were to succeed in attracting talent and creating open access for the community:

'Multi-modal is important, for instance, good bus infrastructure for poorer areas. Boris has always been a fan of buses. You need to get people out of their cars and there's much more interest post pandemic in cycling now, so important to provide cycle routes where you can, besides it is too expensive to fill up your car.

'The larger station today is now being invigorated but we need to pay attention to the small ones too, create a smaller web of networks and bus services need to be improved. We did this as a firm in Leicestershire. The Commonwealth Games acted as a catalyst for change when they were held in Manchester, but there needed to be re-investment in the north of the city. People got behind it, and we need to have those kind of foresights now, not just focus on one big piece or large station. Victorian stations are all in the right places, they just need invigorating. Previously, you couldn't get across from Manchester to Leeds and we have to challenge where there are gaps. Birmingham is doing good things but there needs to be more time and money, to get everything working together.

'We are in new territory now post pandemic and the UK government is realising that we don't necessarily need big new hospitals but smaller projects to reduce waiting lists. So on the back of the Nightingale hospitals, we are working with loose fit ideas, buildings that can be taken down and adapted for new uses and bringing back engagement with the community.'

Cllr Courts, Portfolio Holder for the Environment at West Midlands Combined Authority, commented that Birmingham is still too car based for people coming into the city from outside. He said it is important to think about shared space and how some infrastructure might affect that. He insisted that the city should be cleverer on networks and it might be better to spend money on smaller infrastructure with a longer term strategy and on a web based approach rather than hub and spoke.

HOK's John Prevc responded to a question about social equity, and how health campuses and R&D facilities might be better planned for cities, post pandemic, especially as often even senior research staff and nurses cannot afford to live near to where they work :

'The best cities are mixed cities and the idea of living and working close to each other is an important one. We are currently designing a hospital in Edgbaston which is a public-private partnership and this will provide a legacy in 30 years time when it returns to the public sector. However, cities have always needed to generate space that is not just single use. We have come away from the central business district concept of the 1950s and1960s, and taking the car out of city centres. Science and medical campuses are slightly different places. They are the science and tech engines of innovation.. We are working with some interesting developers on science campuses which will have everything from R&D, to product testing, manufacture and distribution all on one site. This 'through network' is an interesting way that campuses might develop in the future.'

Vinci will build the Queen Elizabeth Hospital expansion scheme in Edgbaston, which will deliver acute healthcare for private patients in the region. The new facility is a joint venture between University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust Foundation Trust and HCA Healthcare UK, being developed by specialist healthcare property company Prime. The 160,000 square feet hospital, designed by HOK, will provide 66 private patient care beds and 72 NHS beds, as well as new radiotherapy unit and operating theatres.

Richard Fox, Business Partnerships Director at The University of Birmingham, said that while physical connectivity was important, investors largely judged the University on the quality of its research and how this was supported:

'We do have the connectivity and that is also illustrated in our local and global partners. We are increasingly working with SME's to bring them to the region and growing businesses out of the University. The innovation campus will provide the missing puzzle piece and deliver high impact for our research as well as helping patients. It doesn't matter whether we have partners in Selly Oak, Boston or Zurich, we really have to make the most of this development and that means using the stable gene pool for testing here. We are competing to attract talent globally and are developing technologies in different areas such as rare blood cancers, but we are also carrying out research for the environment as well, with our green surgery group and our energy part with the WMCA.'

With both new entrants and established health and life sciences firms seeking novel approaches, the need to de-risk innovations – in diagnostics, software, devices or new therapies – through testing and evaluation in a relevant real-world environment is critical the University says, if it is to successfully commercialise and adopt new technologies.

Providing a bespoke physical home for collaborative research and data-enabled healthcare innovation, BHIC will also create the open and inclusive culture, infrastructure and environment needed to deliver key elements of the Government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. This includes the mission to ‘transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia by 2030’.

The campus is set to attract innovative businesses to the region, and will support them to create meaningful employment opportunities and sustainable economic growth to benefit both patients and the wider community. It will also create the grow-on space for the businesses currently incubating in The BioHub Birmingham which is fully occupied.

Future phases have the potential for around 65,000sqm (650,000 square feet) of lettable commercial space for innovative health and life sciences businesses seeking to co-locate and work closely with BHP. This will comprise high-quality lab and office space for new start-ups, alongside grow-on space for businesses either currently incubating at our existing BioHub, Institute of Translational Medicine, or elsewhere. The potential for flexible design will also enable businesses to configure their own space as they scale up.

There is also the option of developing pre-lets for established businesses seeking to relocate or co-locate teams at the heart of the BHP ecosystem.

Future Cities Forum will be holding its next science and innovation forum this coming October.


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