MANCHESTER, UK - The first North West Biosciences Conference was held in Manchester last week, as this region of the UK shapes up to create a significant cluster of bioscience activities.

The Bioincubator that opened at Manchester University in September 1999 now houses six start-ups, the Wellcome Trust research charity is funding the Millennial Clinical Trials center next to the incubator, and a #25 million Core Technology center is planned on the same site to provide services such as high-throughput screening and robotics. Meanwhile, 30 miles away in Liverpool, the university there is creating a biologicals manufacturing facility to produce material for clinical trials, and there are plans to turn an existing pilot manufacturing plant, currently owned by Medeva plc (now part of Celltech) into a regional resource.

Maire Smith, chief executive of Manchester Innovation Ltd., the company that runs the Bioincubator, told BioWorld International, "What you will see is the region pulling together to create a world-class cluster. Whatever you do in biotechnology you have got to compete in the global marketplace."

Other strengths of the region include the presence of 25 percent of the UK's pharmaceutical research activities, a large cohort of bioscience students and a concentration of major teaching hospitals.

There is also a relationship with the State of Georgia in the U.S., which is looking for synergies between the biotechnology activities of the two regions.

Smith said, "The opening of the incubator provides a fantastic focus for building a cluster. It provides a way for people with ideas to come forward. We can help mold the ideas into a portfolio and advise on licensing." To date there are six start-ups in the Bioincubator, and Smith said there have been approaches from a number of others, including groups that are currently employed in big pharma, and clinicians from nearby hospitals.

The six companies are Intercytex Ltd. and Renovo Ltd., both in the field of tissue engineering; F2G Ltd., which is working on antifungals; Sagitus Ltd., a bioinformatics specialist; Motac Neurosciences Ltd., which is focused on Parkinson's disease; and Orion Ltd., a diagnostics company.

The Bioincubator also is acting as a magnet to venture capitalists and making it easier to attract managerial talent, said Smith. Manchester Innovation, which is owned by Manchester University, has an equity stake in the companies in the Bioincubator. "We would expect them to be with us for around three years and would look for dilution then," Smith said.

The formation of a significant biotech cluster is supported by the recently created North West Development Agency. The agency is sponsoring the setting up of the Core Technology Facility, which is currently at the feasibility stage. Linda Magee of the agency told BioWorld International, "The aim is to provide a full range of 'big kit' services, such as robotics and high-throughput screening, to support the post-genomics development of personalized and preventative medicine."

The center will be a commercial entity and will act as a conduit between basic and clinical science and commercialization. It is proposed that it will also have links to the Wellcome clinical trials center.

Magee said the agency also is supporting the National Biologics Production Facility planned for Liverpool University. As Liverpool is a priority area for regeneration, this project is expected to be eligible for significant funding from the European Union's regional development fund.