Speaking series

Eliot Forster – Chair of MedCity


Eliot has been CEO and non-executive director of several life science and biotechnology companies (these include Atlantic Healthcare, Oxford BioTherapeutics, Creabilis SA, Spinifex Pty Ltd. He has been CEO of Immunocore Ltd (Oxfordshire) since 2015. Also, Eliot is Chairman of the MedCity project, which promotes the Life Sciences in the South East of England. MedCity is dedicated to supporting and growing the world-leading life sciences ecosystem of England’s greater South East. His experience, and his passion, make him well placed to give insights to start-up life-sciences businesses on what they should do their early stages to ensure success.

Having such a depth of experience in the life sciences sector, you will have seen a lot of different businesses grow and change. In your opinion, how can investing in intellectual property help that growth?

Intellectual property is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of any business in the sector alongside people and investment. This is particularly true for start-ups where a company’s technology can be its most important asset. Establishing intellectual property rights to protect these critical assets, for example though patents or industrial designs, increases the barrier to entry for competitors and provides confidence to potential investors, allowing businesses to further develop their technology, establish partnerships and ultimately bring products to market.


You’re Chair of MedCity, an organisation dedicated to supporting and growing the world-leading life sciences ecosystem of England’s greater South East.  What stands out about MedCity compared to other life-sciences hub communities and support networks?

MedCity is a collaboration between the Mayor of London and the five Academic Health Science Centres across Cambridge, London, and Oxford. MedCity is a small but powerful team with strong sector expertise to support both international companies and homegrown entrepreneurs to do business in the region, facilitate academic collaborations, support access to funding, and much more. In addition, new life sciences jobs have been created as a result of MedCity-supported inward investment projects, including the Japanese R&D agency, AMED; French health research company, Mapi; and Russian personalised health company, Atlas Biomed.

The region is going from strength to strength and is home to over 3,300 life sciences companies; four of the world’s top ten universities; leading research institutions, such as Cambridge Biomedical Campus, and cutting-edge projects such as the 100,000 genomes project. MedCity acts as a front door to this world-leading region, and has built strong cross-sector domestic and international relationships.

Moving forward, we continue to work with other UK clusters, such as the Northern Health Science Alliance, to promote collaboration between our regions and utilise our individual strengths to create a compelling UK life sciences offer to the world. With the UK’s strengths in gene therapy, rare diseases, oncology and digital health, our collaborative approach will ensure the UK remains an attractive location for science, through Brexit and beyond.

How has MedCity’s Angels in MedCity initiative enabled life sciences entrepreneurs and SMEs in the South East to expand their businesses?

Angels in MedCity aims to introduce new and existing business angels to investment opportunities from healthcare and life science companies and support life sciences companies to gain funding to commercialise their ideas. Since the programme launch, we have held seven pitching events, and helped 18 companies to raise over £14m from our community of investors. This includes companies such as Jellagen, Jupiter Diagnostics and, here in my hometown of Oxford, The Electrospinning Company. These three companies alone have raised over £3m in investments.

As CEO of Immunocore – one of the UK’s biggest life sciences companies – what unique skills do you consider you bring to MedCity that help it thrive?

My experience at Immunocore has given me an in depth knowledge of how to grow a successful biotech business in the Golden Triangle. I have seen first-hand the advantages of being located in the region, including access to ‘talent’ and close proximity to world leading universities and hospitals, along with the potential challenges, such as of cost of housing, transport and accessing space to grow.

Immunocore has an enviable fundraising track record, which was recognised when you were awarded Financing Deal of the Year at the 2016 SCRIP awards. What are your tips for successfully raising finances for life sciences companies?

Great technology, backed-up by robust scientific data that demonstrates the ability of the technology to deliver is key. Alongside this should sit a strong patent portfolio that protects the key aspects of the technology, a clear strategy for growth and of course, outstanding scientists.  Partnerships with industry leaders can also provide further validation of the technology. It was a combination of all these factors that propelled Immunocore to Europe’s largest private life sciences financing in July 2015.

What role did Immunocore’s patent portfolio play in enabling your strategic collaborations with companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly?

Immunocore has a broad patent portfolio that provides multi-tiered protection of our unique technology platform. This was a critical factor in establishing partnerships with four top global pharmaceutical companies, who were impressed by the potential of our technology to deliver a real change in patient treatment, and wanted to be a part of it.

Congratulations on Immunocore’s expansion at Milton Park. With Immunocore taking 53,000 sq ft, will this open up opportunities for budding biotechnology innovators in Oxford to join the hub?

The Milton Park expansion reflects the growing demand for state-of-the-art, strategically located premises from established and emerging science and technology businesses in Oxfordshire, which benefits from access to talent from the University of Oxford and excellent transport links into London and other key regional hubs. Milton Park provides scope for organisations of all sizes to grow within this thriving and supportive community of likeminded businesses and individuals.

In your capacity as a board member of the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR), can you tell us how the OSCHR has addressed the barriers to research collaboration and facilitated the application of research into patient care and economic benefit?

Since starting, OSCHR has demonstrated a powerful capacity to work across government through collaboration, addressing many of the issues required to ensure a comprehensive health research environment and leading to improved health outcomes and economic growth. The OSCHR process has helped to focus on the development of better NHS electronic data capabilities for research; create a research programme for public health and greatly enhance translation science.

Finally, what’s your no. 1 piece of advice for someone starting a life sciences business?

It is essential to be open and adapt to new challenges, there’s something new to learn everyday (an ability to sleep whenever and wherever you can helps too!).