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Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

A post-Brexit strategy unlocking science and technology growth in the UK regions


Tom Renn, Managing Director of Manchester’s Bruntwood SciTech, argues for a more joined-up approach to investment, research and innovation that makes the most of regional strengths in medtech

In an era of personalised medicine and continuous technological innovation, the notion of the UK creating a $1bn medtech unicorn may not be as fanciful as once it was. While scaling a medtech business to the point where it is valued at over $1 billion would be an exceptional achievement – UK Plc is clearly serious about creating, growing and scaling more science and technology businesses.

New clusters are emerging to help foster the companies that can achieve sustainable dynamic growth. Many are building on the country’s intellectual and entrepreneurial capital in places like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds. Making more of the economic potential of UK regional cities has been long identified as a key piece of the regeneration jigsaw in post-Industrial Britain.

Cities are recognising the potential of investing in science and technology as a means to create well-paid jobs and meaningful careers. For example, Liverpool which transformed its economy on the back of its cultural assets, is now looking higher up the value chain with a life science strategy based around an expanded Knowledge Quarter.

Key government economic policies aimed at rebalancing the economy including those focused on unlocking the potential in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine and place-based local industrial strategies have science and technology as a key focus. At the same time, through devolution and other key initiatives, the Government has made a more determined effort to unleash potential. Indeed, fostering innovation in the UK underpins much of the Government’s Industrial Strategy published last year.

How the UK’s pending exit from the EU will affect the sector and the wider economy too remains to be seen. Depending on the manner of the exit, there will naturally be a period of adjustment. What won’t change though is the global demand for new healthcare solutions and innovations. One of the areas we also need to explore in the post-Brexit era is whether we can get greater collaboration happening within the UK – a more joined up approach between North and South and the public and private sectors.

Westminster needs to support the economic potential within the regions with bold investment and forward-thinking policies.

In global terms the UK is a small country, with physical distances between the respective science and tech clusters insignificant compared to, say, the US or China. A parochial approach and one that’s purely focused on the South of England – the traditional ‘golden triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London – just doesn’t make sense to global investors to whom a couple of hundred miles is nothing.

Underpinning the growth of the regions is a new focus on the relationship between ‘place’ and innovation. Our vision is centred on a belief that partnerships between business, local authorities, universities and the NHS can achieve more and at greater pace by working together than they can working on their own. The model is about making sure we have genuinely world-class facilities for science and technology businesses at every stage of their lifecycle from start-up to large multinational. But regardless of scale, we want to make sure they’re connected in a supportive ecosystem.

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The chances of any IP-based businesses succeeding are massively enhanced if they operate in an environment where the right elements are provided – appropriate facilities, access to talent and skills, funding and business support services. By bringing these elements together in clusters in regional cities we have seen countless times how it can have a transformative effect.

Expanding the Manchester blueprint

We will build on and roll-out the successful model we have created in Greater Manchester. Here in partnership with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), Manchester City Council, the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, ARUP, and the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester Science Partnerships and Bruntwood created the Oxford Road Corridor innovation district, which is already responsible for 20 per cent of the city region’s GDP, home to 72,000 jobs, half of which are in the knowledge sector. The Oxford Road Corridor is on track to become one of Europe’s top five innovation districts by 2025, and over the next few years will see investment of more than £2bn, creating another 7,000 jobs.

CGI image of Citylabs 2.0

At a more granular level, we have deepened our partnership with MFT which led to the creation of Citylabs 1.0, a biomedical centre of excellence at the heart of the largest clinical academic campus in Europe. Companies based there are able to benefit from unrivalled access to world-leading academic researchers and clinicians through our partner network. It has become a virtual revolving door of research, innovation and commercialisation, where companies like the Queen’s Award-winning medtech firm Elucigene Diagnostics has thrived.

It was the success of Citylabs 1.0 that led to the £60m expansion of the campus to create Citylabs 2.0 and 3.0, which will become a globally-leading genomics hub for innovation, precision medicine, translational science, and molecular diagnostics.

Anchored by global diagnostics company QIAGEN, Citylabs 2.0 was the culmination of a partnership between the private and public sector which will not only create and support up to 1,500 jobs – adding almost £150m to Manchester’s economy over a decade, but more importantly bring fast-tracked real health benefits to over 3m people in Manchester and far beyond, through access to new diagnostics and targeted treatments developed through pioneering research.

Tom Renn

The medtech opportunity

According to the Office for Life Sciences, in 2017 there were nearly 3,600 med-tech companies in the UK, with a combined turnover of £22.2bn and employing just over 122,000 people. Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network sees medtech as the most dynamic segment in UK life sciences, accounting for 25 per cent of the turnover, employing some 48,000 people and having more than four times as many companies than their peers in the wider sector with strong growth potential.

The recent announcement about the creation of five new centres of excellence for digital pathology and imaging, including radiology using artificial intelligence (AI) is indicative of where the Government sees the opportunity. Health Secretary Matthew Hancock’s pledge to ‘transform the NHS into an ecosystem of enterprise and innovation that allows technology to flourish and evolve’ is an aspiration we support fully and look forward to help to deliver in the years to come.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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