Alnylam, one of the most promising US biotechnology companies, has joined a growing number of life science and healthcare businesses by investing in the Thames Valley. This news follows the announcement of the success of foreign direct investment in Berkshire earlier this week.
The firm, that opened their offices on the 20th September, will invest hundreds of millions of pounds to establish its European drug development and commercial headquarters in the Maidenhead area.
It also announced its intention to build up a team of more than 100 people, including scientific, medical and business staff, welcoming positive messages of support received from the Prime Minister Mrs Theresa May, in whose constituency the investment lies.
“The decision shows that the threat of Brexit has not eliminated Britain’s attractiveness as a home for the life sciences industry”, said Akshay Vaishnaw, Chief Medical Officer of the Massachusetts-based company.
“With its strong academic and clinical research sector, as well as its universal health service and regulatory bodies constantly striving to be more streamlined and efficient, the UK has a lot to offer as a development hub for innovative medicines,” said Brendan Martin, who will head the UK operation. “Our investment here signals a trust that the UK community will continue to treat this mission with the urgency and importance it deserves.”
The Chamber’s Chief Executive, Paul Britton who attended the opening ceremony, welcomed the investment and the messages of commitment from the company in both the UK and the Thames Valley. He welcomed the support provided by Chamber partners, including the Department of International Trade representatives in the UK and Boston, in helping secure the Alnylam investment. He comments, “We welcome Alnylam. It was made clear to all who attended the opening ceremony, that we have a truly special, industry-leading and innovation-lead business joining the growing family of Life Sciences and Healthcare (LSH) businesses here in the Thames Valley. It’s a further endorsement of the strength of the Thames Valley, the LSH cluster and wider business community, talent and excellent R&D base”.
The decision to establish an European hub in Maidenhead, was taken before June’s EU referendum. The unexpected result was a “heart-stopping” moment, Dr Vaishnaw said. Early recruits to the UK team were in the US for a company meeting then and immediately asked the Chief Executive, John Maraganore, “whether Alnylam was going to announce that it was done with the UK”. After the briefest pause it was decided to proceed as planned. “Whatever happens, the UK will remain a leader in the life sciences and clinical research — and in medicines regulation,” Dr Vaishnaw said.
Alnylam is the leading corporate exponent of RNAi therapeutics (RNA interference) which makes it possible to “silence” disease-causing genes. It has a broad range of drug candidates in clinical trials for rare inherited diseases and for more common metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. Alnylam is the one of the most highly valued biotech companies that does not yet have a marketed drug. “We are about 18 months away from commercialising our first products,” said Dr Vaishnaw. They will treat diseases caused by the accumulation of unwanted amyloid proteins in the heart and nerves. Other drugs in clinical trials include treatments for haemophilia, porphyria and liver disease. Alnylam’s gene-silencing products, known technically as small interfering RNA molecules, are administered as injections every three to six months.