Birmingham is a hotbed for cutting edge start-ups

11 January 2019

I had many expectations for Christmas 2018. I expected to spend time with my family and to receive (and give) plenty of gifts, writes Saqib Bhatti.

I did not, however, expect to meet the founder of Birmingham’s soon-to-be first ever billion-pound startup.

That is exactly what I got when I met Prof Asif Ahmed, founder of MirZyme Therapeutics and founding Dean of Aston Medical School at Aston University.

A spin-off from academics at the university, MirZyme is dedicated to early-stage diagnoses and treatments of pre-eclampsia.

Affecting one in 12 women, pre-eclampsia is the silent killer which claims the life of a woman or a baby every minute. That means by the time you have finished reading this, six people will have died.

When we talk about life sciences and pharmaceuticals, you could be forgiven for thinking of companies like GlaxoSmithKline or AstraZeneca. However, big pharma are only responsible for less than a quarter of the drugs discovered.

The real discovery happens with smaller niche companies, who are more flexible than big pharma in cutting costs and focused expertise on their specific areas.

This new niche is around those illnesses that have no satisfactory method of diagnosis, treatment or prevention.

With the arrival of companies like Mirzyme, I envision Birmingham having the potential to be the global capital for early-stage pharma ready to tackle “unmet medical needs”.

And why not? Greater Birmingham and Solihull had the largest amount of startups outside of London for the fifth year running in 2018.

Our diversity means that,  as a region, we offer the most comprehensive testing-bed for new drugs than anywhere else in the world. None of this happens without effective leadership, however.

At the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, we are developing a specific plan nurturing an eco-system for life sciences, capitalising on the uniqueness of our region.

The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce delivers cutting-edge business support to its broad spectrum of 3200 members. Our world class universities make us a honeypot for global talent.

Our mayor, Andy Street, is already laying the groundwork for the fourth industrial revolution in Life Sciences by implementing the government’s industrial strategy and securing the first pilot of 5G broadband in the country.

Our co-ordinated leadership, our attractiveness for world-leading researchers and our ambitious vision means we are an alluring proposition for thriving entrepreneurial companies to locate here.

The idea that Birmingham could be a global leader in this new niche of medicine is very attractive. More exports, more jobs and more opportunities for our youth make developing this niche an obvious route. However, I am much humbler in my ambitions.

If we are able to combat diseases like pre-eclampsia then every life saved is a life worth fighting for.

Perhaps, by the time you finish reading my next article, the lives lost from pre-eclampsia will have been reduced to zero. Perhaps the next time I write about this we will have achieved my dream of becoming the global leader for unmet medical needs.

Saqib Bhatti is President of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

Published in this week’s Birmingham Post

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