Pharmaceuticals and biotech lead UK university innovation 

University technology and innovation is driving the UK’s status in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, according to GovGrant’s University Spinouts Report 2021. 

The report 

According to the new report, the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sector dominates the top ten spinout companies of the last decade, ranked by valuation. Pharma and biotech companies within the top ten have a combined value of £3.14 billion (£3,143,900,000), representing over 70% of those ten companies. 

It is based on analysis of just under 1,000 UK spinout companies, a sample that comprises £19.08 billion of capital invested, 4,489 deals and 1,907 investors. 

Within pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, 76 (13%) drug discovery spinouts account for £2.6 billion of capital raised (39.6%) and 60 (10.3%) biotechnology spinouts account for £1.2 billion (17.5%).  

What these findings mean 

The rankings highlight the role innovation at UK universities has played in putting the nation at the global forefront of the sector in recent years, increasing its dominance when compared to the previous decade. Ten spinout pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies feature within the top 20 companies founded since the turn of the millennium. 

The sector has proven to be by far the most attractive spinout investment opportunity. When analysing the last 20 years, the sector accounts for half (£5.9 billion) of all capital raised by university spinouts in the UK. This is followed by computer hardware (9.6%) and healthcare devices and supplies (8.8%). 

Company rankings 

The report suggested that the most successful spinout company from the sector over the last decade is Exscientia, which is worth £785 million and was founded at the University of Dundee. Using proprietary AI technology to discover and design new drugs, the firm received a $4.2 million grant from the Gates Foundation earlier in 2021 – to develop new medicines for infectious diseases. 

Next came NightstaRx, a University of Oxford spinout valued at £664.6 million. It specialises in creating gene therapies for diseases affecting the retina. 

Third on the list of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies is Vaccitech, worth £387.6 million and a product of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, one of the world’s leading vaccine research centres. It develops immunotherapeutics products and vaccines for treating and preventing infectious diseases and cancer. 

Additional support 

The University Spinouts Report 2021 was produced by IP specialists and R&D tax credit experts GovGrant to celebrate the UK’s position as a global leader in innovation.  

Official comments 

Adam Simmonds, Investment Research Analyst at GovGrant, said: “This report highlights the huge value to the economy of UK universities, as well as their incredible depth of creativity and talent. It’s no surprise to see pharmaceutical and biotech spinouts feature prominently: the UK is particularly renowned for innovation in these areas. You only need to look at the recent development of Covid-19 vaccines in the UK to see how accomplished we are in pharmaceutical innovation.” 

David Richardson, Chief Entrepreneurial Executive at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Universities are a rich source of cutting-edge research, which enables new learning, discovery, and innovation. Cutting-edge research and the ability to develop and understand how new technologies advance industry and society are critical factors for ensuring future prosperity. Success comes from building on research specialisms, and using these to catalyse new collaborations, investment, and jobs through the development of dynamic ecosystems focused on advanced R&D, talent development and commercialisation. In addition to investment, spinouts attract skilled graduates and high-performing academic researchers from across the globe to the UK. On average, they recruit around 12 employees per company. Between 2016 and 2018 alone, UK university spinouts employed over 23,000 people.” 

The report is available at

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