Norfolk MP to tell world stage why to invest in the Norwich Research Park

On Monday, Norfolk MP George Freeman will take to a world stage to promote Britain and Norfolk as a place to invest in the life sciences. Business writer ANNABELLE DICKSON asked him what he will be doing and why it is so important?

Since prime minister David Cameron announced the government's life science strategy in December the Norwich Research Park (NRP) has been at the forefront of developments. First the radical blueprint for a �26m expansion of the park was unveiled - complete with office space, conference rooms and laboratories for start-up and more established firms. And then the scientists received a boost last month when the government confirmed �90m of its �250m pot for organisations researching the life sciences would be going to the institutions based in the NRP.

But it is not just a question of build (and research), and they will come. Now the hard work convincing investors to help pay for the research and turn the science into business starts.

On Monday about 20,000 global healthcare industry figures will gather in Boston, Massachusetts. All of the major investors - from start-ups to big corporate healthcare companies - will be there.

It will be a chance for Mr Freeman and science minister David Willetts to tell the industry about the UK government's strategy to open up the health service to make it a magnet for innovation and drive growth.

Mr Freeman said: 'The idea is to tell that story and attract investors and companies to Britain.'

Meetings with companies include Chinese, Russian and Indian firms and among the big names Mr Freeman and David Willetts will be meeting to promote the British message are Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

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Mr Freeman said: 'We have about 30 meetings scheduled with companies and investors including the big global pharma companies like Johnson and Johnson to encourage them to come and invest in places like the NRP and to showcase to them the companies that we have here in Norfolk and the UK, including companies like Anglia DNA in the Norwich Research Park. The central message will be that with the strategy the government is putting in place and the richness of our research base, the vibrancy of the early stage start-up investment sector and the quality of infrastructure we are planning, we are laying the foundations for a smart economy which international investors can't ignore.'

But what are the government hoping to get out of these big global players?

Mr Freeman said: 'Ultimately we will be looking to attract international companies to invest in research collaborations with our institutes such as the Norfolk and Norwich Biomeidcal campus and we are also looking for collaborations between regions like Massachusetts and East Anglia.

He also said they would be exploring the potential for a 'pre-competitive' consortia of companies, in areas like dementia, where there was a real scope for using the unique collection of anonymised patient data held by the NHS to help unlock the treatments for diseases like Altzheimer's and Parkinsons.

He said: 'One of the great strengths of the UK healthcare economy is the national organisation with the NHS. US healthcare is fragmented and US companies and investors cannot access the combination of clinical excellence and healthcare data that we can provide in the UK.'

But it is not just a question of introducing the UK offer, some of the meetings could cement relationships already nurtured. Mr Freeman said: 'There are individual investment opportunities for UK companies which have to remain confidential, but around which we have specific meetings to accelerate progress.'

He said the potential deals could span from those of a relatively small values but of strategic importance to potentially very valuable deals worth millions of pounds.

So what does Norwich have to offer investors?

With the Institute of Food Research in Norfolk and a global interest in nutrition and disease growing that is one area Mr Freeman will be talking about. He said neutroceuticals and work at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Campus on the model gut will also be of interest.

He said the government had made important steps in investing in the science base, particularly in medicine, energy and nutrition.

'The challenge now is to attract inward investment from companies and countries to fund research here in the UK and attract venture capital investment to help build and grow new companies here in the UK in order that we can trade our way out of the debt crisis.

'To do that we need to go and tell companies and investors around the world about the science, technology and innovation we have in the UK and the world class businesses that we are building and that is what I am doing this week as part of the UKTI trade delegation at the Bio conference. We have here at the NRP a world class facility but too few people around the world are aware of it. We need to go and tell them and bring them here to see for themselves how exciting this investment is.'

Mr Freeman said: 'With the scale of the crisis in the eurozone now all to clear and the possibility of the Euro as a currency in meltdown over the coming months it is more important than ever that we in Britain do everything we can to lay the foundations to trade our way out of the debt crisis by developing the products and services that people around the world need. Our life sciences centre is crucial to that challenge providing the technology solution to some of the most pressing challenges facing the globe particularly in medicine, energy and nutrition.'