UK Biotech Companies Thriving in Maryland and Philadelphia Hubs

For decades, the United States and the United Kingdom have enjoyed a special relationship that crosses political, economic, and military lines. But, the two nations also share a similar comradery in the Life Sciences arena, and prominent biotech hubs like the BioHealth Capital Region and Philadelphia showcase that connection.

There are several similarities between the BioHealth Capital Region, Philadelphia, and the U.K. They all have vital programs in gene and cell therapy. And they are home to key government institutions. The Midlands in the U.K. is home to the National Health Service and multiple academic and commercial institutions. Maryland is home to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies. The U.S. region is also home to multiple significant academic and commercial institutions as well. Most recently, decades-old messenger RNA work originating out of Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania is a major contributor to Moderna’s COVID vaccine.

Last year, the State of Maryland and the U.K.’s Midlands Engine signed a Memorandum of Understanding intended to grow the life sciences business of both regions. Representatives from both regions will conduct trade missions to see what opportunities there are and leverage the existing trans-Atlantic success stories to build on the strong foundation that exists. 

Multiple companies straddle the Atlantic Ocean, with one foot in the U.K. and one foot in the BioHealth Capital Region or Philadelphia. GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Adaptimmune, Gyroscope, and Autolus are five such companies.

Headquartered in the U.K., GSK has a presence in both Maryland and Pennsylvania. In 2016, GlaxoSmithKline opened a global vaccine research and development center in Rockville to be close to the National Institutes of Health and other federally-funded life science agencies. The Maryland facility was expanded in 2019 with a $139 million investment to bolster the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing capacity for Benlysta, a treatment for chronic autoimmune disease lupus. The Maryland facility’s expansion was expected to increase GSK’s bulk drug substance manufacturing capacity by 50%. The 2019 expansion also paved the way for the company to use the facility to manufacture a new subcutaneous type of Benlysta. In addition to its lupus medication, the facility is also used to support its shingles treatment, Shingrix, and to develop vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a significant cause of respiratory infections in young children and the elderly. The Maryland site is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for both large and small-scale manufacturing. 

GSK had intended to develop a biopreparedness organization in Maryland that would be used to develop new vaccines against emerging viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that potentially pose a threat to global public health. The BPO did not pan out for the company. 

At the same time GSK expanded its Maryland facility, the company also invested $120 million into its Upper Providence, Penn. location, to expand its manufacturing of medications for oncology and other specialty diseases. Upper Merion uses emerging technologies in bioreactors, such as single-use and disposable components.  

In 2018, London-based T cell therapy company Autolus announced it would build its U.S. commercial manufacturing operation in Maryland. The company settled on the area due to the biomanufacturing staff and leadership talent, and general biotech business skills, the company said at the time. The company is developing AUTO3, a CAR T cell therapy targeting the antigens CD19 and CD22, which are expressed by cancer cells in B-cell leukemia and lymphoma. Additionally, the company is developing therapies aimed at Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and solid tumors, including GD2-positive tumors and prostate cancer.

Adaptimmune, which has facilities in Philadelphia and Oxfordshire, U.K., is a cell therapy company aimed at treating cancer. CAR-T programs are known to benefit some hematological cancers. Still, Adaptimmune is tackling solid tumors with its unique SPEAR (Specific Peptide Enhanced Affinity Receptor) T-cell platform, which enables the engineering of T-cells to target and destroy cancer across multiple solid tumors. In 2015, the company announced a $25 million investment to open a new 46,000-square-foot facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

U.K. based Gyroscope, merged with Pennsylvania-based Orbit Biomedical in 2019, giving it a toehold in the region. The company is developing GT005, an investigational gene therapy for people with geographic atrophy (GA) secondary to dry age-related macular degeneration. Gyroscope dosed its first patient in a Phase II study earlier this month. The FDA granted Fast Track designation to GT005 for the treatment of GA in people with variants in their complement genes.

As one of the leading companies developing a vaccine against COVID-19, AstraZeneca has certainly showcased its importance in both the U.K. and the BioHealth Capital Region in responding to the global pandemic. In addition to the financial boost it has brought to the region from U.S. financing for vaccine development, it has forged strong economic strong ties with Maryland’s Emergent BioSolutions to bolster its manufacturing for the vaccine candidate.

AstraZeneca’s had been known in the region through its Gaithersburg-based subsidiary, Medimmune, which was folded into the parent company in 2019, and has been the anchor biotech company in the region responsible for fostering the BioHealth Capital Region development strategy and a cornerstone of the region’s success. In addition to the Gaithersburg global biologics R&D hub, AstraZeneca also operates a Biologics Manufacturing Center in Frederick, Md represents the largest biologics manufacturing facility within the company’s global network and portfolio asset. 

The many similarities and mutually beneficial goals have forged strong ties between these US and UK biotech hubs. With a foundation for collaboration established, it will not be a surprise to see more biotech companies leverage these relationships to expand their markets in the UK, Maryland, and Philadelphia as they grow.

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Alex Keown

Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.