Two heads are better than one - and many brilliant minds across multiple disciplines are better still. That's the theory behind the multi-disciplinary cluster approach to R&D, commercial innovation and scale-up as laid out in the government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.


What are the benefits of the cluster approach?


“The cluster model catapults scientific innovation forward. It creates an ecosystem where research is rapidly accelerated through successful commercial outputs into high-tech manufacturing,” says Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Director of Business Development at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. “Harwell includes several billion pounds of investment in the UK’s open-access national physical laboratories; over 30 universities work on campus at any one time alongside 6,000 people across 250 private, public and academic organisations. All see the huge commercial benefits of working collaboratively.”

Campus collaboration spans everything from oncology, infectious and neurodegenerative diseases, vaccine and drug resistance through to biomaterial and drug design, imaging, radiation, and health and telemedicine apps. “AI, supercomputing and big data expertise bring even greater knowledge and capabilities,” says Ghinelli.


Scientific benefits:


“Clustering makes it easier to build a clinical network and attract R&D personnel. With critical mass, companies offering regulatory affairs, clinical trials, and contract research move in.”

“In clusters, everyday contacts between scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and industrialists working in different fields, stimulate new ideas and innovative approaches to long-standing problems”. Multi-disciplinary campus-wide events bring people together. “We are a science and innovation community and we must nurture that, “says Ghinelli.

Collaboration has led, among other things, to the world’s first portable hand-held DNA sequencer and 3D printing of a new disease model for obesity and diabetes. The applications of nanodiamonds in life sciences industries, including drug delivery, bio-imaging, bio-sensor and tissue engineering is also being researched.


Business benefits:


“Clusters accelerate the emergence of new companies commercializing cutting edge research. New technologies in space and health are leading to innovation in digital health, remote monitoring and data analysis,” says Gordon Duncan, Director of Harwell Oxford Partners.

“A critical mass of businesses also means supply-chain benefits, risk-sharing of new developments, shared knowledge on building businesses, job creation and concentration of capital and investment. All attract foreign direct investment and external funding from large local investment institutions.”

Clusters need space to grow for commercial and residential development.

Duncan concludes “The evidence that clusters work is seen in the government’s £100 million investment in the new Rosalind Franklin Institute, to be located at Harwell, bringing together life sciences, physical sciences and engineering and linking ten universities with over 240 scientists”

As the UK places itself at the forefront of innovation, the cluster model is a guaranteed template for future success.


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The Harwell cluster is going to be further bolstered by the addition of 1,000 new homes creating an ideal work/life ecosystem. 

The campus is home to a HealthTec cluster of 40 public, academic and commercial organisations working alongside the life sciences community in Oxfordshire and throughout the UK. 

With strong industry and government links, and a close relationship with Oxford University (a world leader in Life Sciences & clinical medicine), it feeds into regional and local development plans and contributes to the UK’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.