Wednesday 22 January 2014

The A to Z of Biotech Success for Medimmune in Cambridge

When I say in Cambridge, I’m speaking figuratively about Medimmune; Babraham, Melbourn and Granta Park could be described as “Cambridge, but in pretty countryside without the traffic problems”. That aside, the story told at the Cambridge Network meeting today was one of our regions great successes. We were privileged to have an insight provided by Jon Green, VP Business Operations, Medimmune and and Dr Paul Varley, VP Science and Collaborations, Biopharmaceutical Development.

It all started with CAT, Cambridge Antibody Technology, back in the 90s. The company was founded on the development of an antibody technology.

When you or I catch a bug, our bodies go into overdrive to make large amounts of unique antibodies. And by sheer volume of numbers, some, or even just one type of unique antibody, will bind to that bug and set off our immune reaction to fight it. The researchers at CAT harnessed these molecules in the lab. Using harmless viruses and converting them into little factories, it was now possible to create libraries containing millions, if not billions of different antibodies. These libraries could then be screened for antibodies that had a real medical benefit against a variety of illnesses and diseases.

With such potential, backers were found in several funding rounds and by the beginning of the new millennium, the company had grown rapidly. It was first floated on the stock exchange in London in 1997 and then on NASDAQ in 2001. The company grew and almost constantly had to move to larger and better buildings. The current significant presence is at the Granta Park.

One of the main factors that helped the company progress rapidly, was the willingness to collaborate and work with other biotech companies in the area.

Success generates interest. In fact many small companies in Cambridge thrive on this phenomenon, waiting to be bought up once the technologies had got past the first proof stages. So it was that AstraZeneca first took a share in the company. The US company Medimmune was bought and combined with CAT, resulting in a successful synergy of research and production.  The current Medimmune was born.

AstraZeneca’s involvement increased, but it was a two-way process. Medimmune issued an invitation to AstraZeneca’s CEO to come to Cambridge. Rather than blow their own trumpet, they let him hear what other partners thought about the company and our region. This led to a momentous step, AstraZeneca’s decision to base its global headquarters here in Cambridge It will be located on the new biomedical campus at Addenbrookes. An influx of several thousand new jobs to the area is expected.

Medimmune still retains its identity. Now it is large enough to itself buy up companies and technologies in the area. Its current pipeline of products covers areas from cardiovascular, oncological, respiratory to inflammatory diseases.

What was most fascinating at the end of the talk, was that the big fish were not interested in just swallowing up the small fry. It was recognised that the concentration of Biotech expertise, the innovation created by small and medium-sized businesses - these created the buzz that made Cambridge so attractive. AstraZeneca and Medimmune want to work with and in appreciation of the SMEs in our area.

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