Nick Sutcliffe, life sciences patent expert and partner at Mewburn Ellis, discusses the risks and opportunities of the growing biotech cluster trend

In recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has seen a significant shift of its R&D away from traditional corporate campuses towards new, collaborative biotech clusters.

Whereas large-scale research has historically been conducted on sites operated by one corporate entity, in locations such as New Jersey, Indiana and the Chicago suburbs, drugmakers are now increasingly moving their scientists to key biotech clusters in coastal US locations and Cambridge, UK.

A primary reason for this is access. Operating in these innovative spaces grants researchers greater access to the world’s leading academic centres and younger researchers, enhancing access to early stage science.

As a result, open innovation has cemented itself as a core strategy for life science companies in their drive to increase and maintain the productivity of their research and development activities.

However, such collaboration also presents key risk factors that companies must be aware of, primarily in the realm of intellectual property.

“In recent years, we have seen biotech clusters become an increasingly important part of many pharmaceutical companies’ research and development strategies. Whereas major drugmakers used to carry projects through from cradle to grave on large research campuses, we are now observing a greater openness to collaboration and outside resources,” says Nick.

“Given this trend and the benefits we are already witnessing, biotech clusters are likely to be major engines of pharma industry growth in the future. However, pharmaceutical companies may need to adapt their traditional approach to innovation to maximise the potential benefits.”

“Protecting pharmaceutical technology through strong patents is the lifeblood of the industry and provides the building blocks for complex collaborations, licenses and other deals. Although biotech clusters present a major opportunity for innovation, both biotech and pharma companies must consider the intellectual property issues that impact on collaborative approaches to drug development.”

“Working with third parties invariably leads to more complex and challenging intellectual property issues than would arise in in-house research programmes. When operating in bioclusters, it is therefore vital that all parties establish ownership rights on their technology through patents at an early stage and use these patents to build the collaborative deals that bring new drugs to market.”