A bright future for Midlands Life Sciences sector

Located in the heart of the UK and with 1,100 businesses in the sector supporting more than 30,565 high-skilled jobs, the Midlands has become a hub for life sciences, with Nottingham’s Biocity, and the Institute for Translational Medicine in Birmingham as centrepieces.  

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, Chief Executive of Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd., has exported to more than 100 countries since the company’s inception. As the UK celebrates British Science Week, he takes a look at the strength of the life sciences sector in the Midlands and offers advice for those looking to begin their export journey.

What does the Midlands’ life sciences sector look like now and in the future?

With the support of nine Local Enterprise Partnerships, 10 Midlands Engine accelerators and 28 business incubators dedicated to speed up the growth of start-ups and early-stage companies, the future of the sector in the region is bright.

The sector is further supported by collaboration with seven research-orientated universities, which are Aston, Birmingham, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham, and Warwick. All of these institutions help to drive cutting-edge research, innovation and skills development.

Morningside Pharmaceuticals is based in Loughborough, where the Enterprise Zone that covers two sites in Loughborough and one in Leicester, has been set up. The joint initiative by the area’s universities, local councils and the Leicester & Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) has been set up as a science and hi-tech manufacturing-themed zone and is targeted to create nearly 25,000 new jobs and generate £180 million over the next 25 years.

Businesses in the life sciences sector are investing in R&D and manufacturing to maximise the opportunities available. Some of these include adjusting to a data economy, such as investing in artificial intelligence to better manage data; innovating to provide products to an ageing society; and investing in digital technologies and ‘Big Data’ to better manage electronic healthcare data sets, which traditional software struggles with.

What are some of the major challenges to exporting in this sector and how can these be overcome?

Doing the correct research is critical to finding the right markets to register products. For Morningside this means registering our medicines with the National Regulatory Authority of each country that we wish to operate in. This may involve copyright and patenting issues which can be challenging if an export country’s regulations and laws are less stringent than those of the UK.

DIT gives UK businesses credibility abroad and helps us to build good relationships with Ministries of Health and National Competent Authorities. This helps ensure rapid completion of company and product registrations.     

Exporting to different countries means varying, and often unique, requirements, such as different labelling and documentation for individual shipments. Having a keen eye with careful research is crucial to ensuring all documents and packaging are correct for each market which, if incorrect, can cost valuable time and money. Pharmaceutical businesses also need to ensure they can provide temperature-controlled storage that adjusts to humid climates, as well as safe and secure logistics.

Establishing a good network of agents, distributors, partners and joint ventures to grow into these markets is also vital. The trade missions and events that DIT support are a great opportunity for this. One of the highlights of my year is the annual Arab Health Conference, the largest medical exhibition and conference in the Middle East. I attend the event and offer insight and advice to younger exporters as part of my role as an DIT Midlands Export Champion. During the conference DIT provide a venue where ‘Brand UK’ is on show and where the UK ambassador often says a few words. This is appreciated by our Middle East customers and provides a great forum to demonstrate British products.

Another successful mission I attended was as one of 30 captains of industry to accompany the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, on her first international trade mission to India in 2016 where £1.2 billion in trade deals were announced following the visit.

The department has helped with knowledge sharing and tailored OMIS reports when looking at new markets along with assistance when we have needed to complete some large tenders, including by attending bid openings abroad.

Where are the opportune markets for the life sciences sector?

There is a wealth of opportunity for further international growth, particularly in developing and emerging economies.

The current focus for Morningside Pharmaceuticals is markets such as China, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We have just registered and are now supplying our products in Norway, Sweden and Finland, which has been a big investment because we had to go through a robust registration process in each country.

The European Union market is a strong partner for pharmaceutical providers. The sector also sees opportunities in developing countries, which have a big respect for our high UK standards.

My advice to businesses looking to grow exports is to ‘feel it, touch it, do it’. Travel to new countries and do extensive research to ensure that your product is right for that market. Build relationships in the market and have a dedicated, patient team. Arrange meetings, attend exhibitions and use the resources available to you, such as those from DIT to start your journey.

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