Top 5 R&D hubs in the UK

4th Oct 2019
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The UK is proudly leading the way when it comes to a broad range of research and development (R&D), particularly within the medical and life sciences sectors. Currently this area of the UK economy consists of over 5000 companies, supporting more than 220,000 jobs, and generating an annual turnover of £60 billion plus.

But why does R&D matter?

R&D involves companies innovating to solve a particular scientific or technological problem. Not only is this beneficial for company growth but also for the wider public and the economy as a whole.

Over the years, the UK government has realised how beneficial R&D is, and since the year 2000 has been investing in innovation via its R&D Tax Credits scheme. Essentially, the scheme helps to cover the costs of R&D projects by offering a reduction in a company’s Corporation Tax, either by reducing the amount due or via lump sum credit.

Since the programme was launched, a huge number of companies across just about every industry have benefitted. Here we take a look at where in the UK R&D is really booming.

1. ‘The Golden Triangle’

The areas of Oxford, London and Cambridge together make up ‘The Golden Triangle’ in England’s South East. Affluent and diverse, it’s a vibrant hub for R&D innovation.


Long thought of as the beating heart of research and science in the UK, in April 2017 AstraZeneca unveiled its new state-of-the-art global corporate headquarters here. Alongside it also sits its strategic R&D centre on the famous Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC). Together with its biologics R&D arm, MedImmune, the company employs over 2000 people from every corner of city’s buoyant academic, clinical, scientific and business communities. Indeed, the concentration of such leading scientific organisations in Cambridge is high, each sharing their skills, knowledge and expertise with companies across the globe.


Oxford’s reputation in the biotechnology space has grown exponentially in recent years, thanks to over £1.2bn of investment in biomedical research. The city hosts the Oxford Biotech cluster, one of the longest-running life science clusters in Europe. There’s also Milton Park, home to around 250 businesses in the science, business and technology sectors.

Oxford BioTrans, supported by Oxford University, opened an impressive R&D facility here in 2016, while Adaptimmune, one of the country’s leading cancer research companies continues to expand.

London and the greater South East

The wider South East region is home to five out of the six UK Academic Health Science Centres. It also boasts four of the world’s highest top 10 ranking universities.

In Hertfordshire, just north of London, there’s the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), as well as Roche’s global R&D hub located in Welwyn Garden City. Roche has invested just short of half a billion pounds in UK R&D since 2016 and organised more clinical trials than any other company.

 2. The Northern Powerhouse

When George Osbourne talked about a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in 2014, the idea was around closing the perceived north/south divide. In the five years since, almost 1000 healthcare and life science companies have taken up residence here, across a huge spectrum of specialisations. The sector also employs over 45,000 people in the region, which spans Yorkshire, the North West and the North East. Global companies include GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Allergan, MSD, Eli Lilly and Recipharm.

The North East

The North East of England produces over a third of the UK’s GDP in pharmaceutical manufacturing. MSD, in Cramlington (Northumberland), is one of the leading pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging facilities on the planet, employing more than 400 people. In 2015, the UK’s Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) also unveiled its National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) in Darlington, County Durham at a cost of £38m. Its aim is to help companies design, develop and commercialise new technologies and processes for biologics manufacture.

The North West

Some big names in pharmaceuticals have made the North West their home, with global organisations including AstraZeneca’s biologics arm, Medimmune, as well as Eli Lilly and Novartis Vaccines, which operates manufacturing facilities in Speke, Liverpool.

Yorkshire and the Humber

Yorkshire and the Humber boasts some of the biggest players in the surgical, orthopaedic and medical device fields in the UK, including Reckitt Benckiser and Smith and Nephew. WELMEC Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering is here (which researches and develops various cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems). Additionally there’s the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Medical Devices (Sheffield, Bradford and Leeds) plus the Leeds Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC).

3. Northern Ireland

Life sciences is a strong sector in Northern Ireland, with 150 companies employing over 7500 people. A notable one is the Almac Group, a manufacturing and contract development organisation providing services to biotech and pharmaceutical sectors across the world, which has its headquarters in Craigavon. In 2018 it announced plans to expand into Dundalk in the Irish Republic, to make sure that its access to the single market could continue after Brexit.

 4. Scotland

The BioQuarter site in Edinburgh is a key European hub for translational medical research. It’s the location of a number of prestigious companies and institutions including Queens Medical Research Institute, the base for 650 researchers in reproductive health, cardiovascular disease and respiratory and inflammatory research. There’s also Fios Genomics, providing bioinformatics data analysis services to both the pharmaceutical industry and academia, which is used in drug development and applied research. The world-class Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, engaging in stem cell research, disease and tissue repair is also found here.

5. Wales

Life Sciences Hub Wales, in Cardiff Bay, was completed in 2014. A large part of its work is in bringing together Wales’ different life sciences specialisms and honouring the Welsh Government’s drive to make the country as one of the biggest hubs in the world for life sciences innovation. It is predicted that the Life Sciences Hub Wales will have injected an extra £1 billion into the sector in Wales by 2022. Hub members include Johnson & Johnson Innovation, GE Healthcare, MSD and Novartis.

Have a question or need further advice? We can help

Myriad UK is a firm of tax advisors, accountants and specialists who solely deal with applications for R&D tax reliefs. If you believe that your client’s company could benefit from R&D Tax Credits, and you would like to make sure you’re in the best position to advise them accurately, please feel free to call the team on 0207 118 6045 or use our contact page.