When formed 30 years ago, the goal of Keele University Science and Business Park (KUSBP) was outlined by the United Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA) as to create the “right environment to support both the creation and growth of technology-based businesses.” But Cobra Biologics, the international contract manufacturing organisation (CMO) of biologics and pharmaceuticals and one of KUSBP’s largest and longest-serving tenant, has grown from one office to over 200 staff across the globe. This includes two additional facilities in Sweden and sales offices in the United States. Cobra’s success story shows that KUSBP is an ideal location for both start-ups to set-up, incubate and grow, and developed businesses thrive.
KUSBP forms an important extension to the North West Biotech Cluster – the third largest biomedical network in the UK, generating £5bn of annual sales – which includes the likes of Manchester University, Astra Zeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lilly and Actavis, which, as Julian Hanak, commercial director at Cobra explains, makes it a perfect location to start and develop an international biotech company:
“When we first started out we took up just one room within the building that we now completely fill and biotechnology was seen as a niche and pioneering area within the pharmaceutical industry. Now, more than two decades later, the top three selling drugs across the world are biopharmaceuticals and all of the top 10 large pharma companies have significant biotech portfolios and pipelines.
“Over the years we’ve seen various companies arrive, grow and progress. To help Cobra thrive, Keele University Science and Business Park has always provided us with an innovative and supportive environment. Being located on the KUSBP in North Staffordshire, Cobra has been able to take advantage of a great location with good local transport links by train and road – we are a short distance from most of the UK’s major cities and between local and international airports.”
In 1992, when Cobra Biologics was formed (then called Therexsys Ltd), the business world was a different place; the challenges of being a multi-national company were substantial without modern communications technology, such as the internet, a minority of companies on KUSBP were technology based and biotech (Cobra Biologic’s research area) was a new and emerging area. Today, 95% of Cobra’s business is done with customers outside of the UK, new technology and digital companies are common on the park, and the biotech industry has grown to be worth $100bn.
In its 22 years Cobra Biologics has completed extensive grant-funded research, reinforcing its identity as one of the most productive businesses on the University campus. It is continually making advancements that are internationally recognised in the biotech industry, such as refining its DNA work to advance the creation of vaccines. It has also founded a spin-out company, Prokarium, a biotech company based on the Keele site, whose vision is to create the best platform for oral delivery of protein vaccines.
Through its location on KUSBP, Cobra has also been able to make the connections to complete work through collaborations with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and leading universities including Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Kings College London and University College London.
Caroline Mairs, head of Keele University Science and Business Park, says: “Cobra has been on the Science Park site since it began as a company with just one room for its office to the present day as a successful multinational company. The original goal of the Science Park was to provide companies with the facilities to boost their growth, but Cobra has always been able to utilize the advantages that the Keele University Science and Business Park gives. This shows that it’s not just start-up companies that can use what the Science Park has to offer in order to boost growth, in our thirty years since the science park was first founded a base has been built for all sizes of company to thrive.”
As its business won grants, accreditations and grew to over 200 workers across the globe, Cobra used the facilities on KUSBP to continue building at all stages of development. Julian continues: “From the moment Cobra set up at Keele we were able to build a stable base; a crucial factor when considering the incredibly high standards required to become, and continue to be, a Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) licenced manufacturing facility.” Being located within KUSBP has afforded Cobra business links, high quality facilities, expert business support in addition to highly productive, experienced and commercially aware professionals – a must for any business looking to develop and learn, whatever size or stage of development it is at.
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