Boris calls for better commercialisation of London's research

Scientists need to lose their “excessive fastidiousness” to make London the scientific capital of the world, the city’s mayor Boris Johnson has said.

October 14, 2013


Speaking at the BioIndustry Association’s UK Bioscience Forum in London on 10 October, Mr Johnson said the conditions were right in London to make it “the leading scientific city on the planet”.

However there was still a charge that London’s breakthroughs were failing to turn into financial and commercial success, he added.

Mr Johnson said that London benefited from having a concentration of scientific talent, with four of the world’s top 40 universities, as well as new ventures such as the forthcoming Francis Crick Institute, the city’s three “bio-incubators” and a government-backed cell therapy “catapult”.

He also noted as benefits the proximity of the financial markets in London, government efforts to enourage start ups through tax breaks and inducements, and the potential to make use of the NHS and its “extraordinary database of London’s colourful patient histories”.

“Together with Oxford and Cambridge we form a huge golden triangle of scientific innovation and yet the truth is that somehow, so far… we haven’t found a way of converting that intellectual pre-eminence into commercial application in the way, or on the same scale, as they have in Boston,” he said, noting the success of the world’s most prolific life sciences cluster.

Part of the problem was scientists being embarrassed to show “a certain commercial avarice”, said the mayor.

“It’s a terrible concept but it’s got to be there…I know that scientists are public spirited people, interested in breakthroughs, but in the end you can do even more good if you bring your product to market and save lives,” he said. 

Success would also come when the city’s venture capital industry also recognised the attractions of bioscience as they do in Boston, he said. 

To encourage that, City Hall planned to “trumpet London’s scientific offering to the world” by rebranding the area around London’s Euston Road as “MedCity” in a £1 million campaign, mirroring the “TechCity” of East London, he said.

“At the moment [the problem] seems to be mainly to do with a lack of imagination from the financial world, and I think a certain excessive fastidiousness on the part of the great scientific brains of our community. And I would encourage both to lose those respective deficiencies,” he said. 

Mr Johnson said that City Hall would also be able to help - through the planning system - with building new facilities, and was also “giving serious consideration” to creating targeted affordable housing for postgraduate science students in the city.

He added that he was also working to make the city more attractive for great minds to inhabit. “Crime is down very substantially over last five years…[the] murder rate is much, much lower than Boston, that’s worth pointing out…you’ve got to be able to live,” he said. 

Asked what he would do for bioscience if he ever became prime minister, Mr Johnson joked that he would take no more questions. However, he said he would want to do on a national scale what his team was trying to do in London - “which is show the world that this is the place to do it”.

He would also work to eliminate any financial or tax barriers, he added.

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Reader's comments (1)

Its great to make these amazing bioscience assets more visible; this part of London is even more remarkable though with social science and business research at LSE, law at King's, engineering at UCL and design at Central Saint Martins to give a few examples. Why not make the whole area in to a knowledge capital? It might just be the smartest place on earth.

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