Managing Director Paul Barber considers the story of Discovery Park to date, and how firm foundations have been put in place to build on its position as one of Europe’s leading business parks for science, technology and enterprise.
Every birthday is a time for reflection, a chance to look back at milestones passed and forward to the next chapter. That is certainly true of Discovery Park, which officially turned four on July 31.
First the review. Many of you will know the first part of the story. Pfizer, was the sole owner of this site, growing it, from the 1950s onwards, into a powerhouse for drug discovery – Viagra, Diflucan and Cardura to name just a few. In February 2011 the company announced it would be closing its entire research and development operation at Sandwich with the proposed loss of most of the site’s 2,400 jobs. Four months later and Pfizer began the process of seeking a buyer, renaming the site Discovery Park. Their decision to refocus their business created much uncertainty, but by the summer, negatives began to turn positive with Pfizer announcing its intention to retain 350 staff on site. That figure rose to 650 by the November of that year, ending fears that the expertise built up on site over five decades would be lost.
On July 31 2012, the site was bought by regeneration specialists Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner in partnership with investment firm Palmer Capital.They inherited a site with five business, employing around 800 staff between them with Pfizer switching from owner to the site’s largest tenant, retaining around 250,000 sq ft of office and lab space. Four years ago the foundations were laid for the site’s multi-business future, including the creation of a new enterprise zone covering the site – with all the benefits that brings prospective and existing tenants in terms of rates relief, simplified planning and high speed broadband. Those foundations included a determination to shift reliance away from any one company, and to retain the expertise on the site, building on the past while increasing its resilience as a dynamic 21st Century hub for science, tech and business. Those same foundations, included a determination by the owners, supported by an experienced project team, to create a culture for the park, based on openness, collaboration and partnership.
A master plan, backed by Dover District Council in October 2014, was prepared to ensure the future sustainability of the site – breathing new life into existing lab and office buildings, the return of manufacturing and the creation of a new community.
So where is Discovery Park four years on? In terms of business numbers the figure has now passed 150 businesses with the number of people employed on site set to surpass the numbers working here before that that announcement in 2011 began to sink in. Many former Pfizer employees have set up their own businesses or returned to work here for other companies. We remain on course to have 3,000 employed here by the end of 2017.
Not all these jobs are in science, many of them are from sectors that R&D companies can turn to along the corridor – from recruiters and accountants to marketing experts, web designers and patent attorneys. We believe that it is this approach that gives Discovery Park the edge; it’s a deliberate part of our collaborative approach, boosting the chances of interconnected on site success. We do everything we can to make that happen with our tenant liaison team organising both informal and formal networking events throughout the year.
And it’s not just business to business relations that we have sought to encourage. Education has been at the heart of that spirit of collaboration on site – building lasting relationships with schools, universities and colleges. This work encompasses large scale events such as the East Kent Jamboree where many of our science tenants seek to spark a love of science among more than 2,000 primary aged children from schools across Dover and Thanet districts. We have also welcomed some great projects – including the Community Lab, a linkup between Pfizer and East Kent College, supported by Discovery Park, that gives students and teacher access to the site’s world class lab facilities – and equipment not usually available in the class room. This year also saw the launch of Canterbury Christ Church University’s new industry liaison lab, with PhD students working for tenants – including Genea Biomedx and Venomtech – on real world research.
Both projects are located in Building 500, returning science to an iconic building in the history of science, where many of Pfizer’s discoveries in the opening years of the millennium went from concept to successful reality. This 250,000 sq ft of lab and offices is gradually being refurbished and will bring hundreds of jobs back to the site. There has already been much progress since work began last year. We’ll have more to say on new arrivals to this impressive space in the coming weeks. It is the last of the main buildings to be prepared for multi-business use, but completion won’t be the end of the story. Early next year the construction of more than 70,000 sq ft of new production space will herald the return of large scale manufacturing to the site. Marketing will begin this autumn at St George’s Park, the first phase of Discovery Park’s residential scheme set to add to the vibrancy of this place – not least as a magnet for people, seeking a range of job opportunities, literally on their doorstep.
It’s too easy to forget how much has been achieved in just four years here at Discovery Park. But in reality, we have only just got begun with more jobs, more investment and more opportunities for East Kent on the way.
L to R: Professor Sadie Morgan from dRMM Ltd, Lord Heleltine, Chris Musgrave Chief Executive Discovery Park, Mark Dance KCC, Paul Barber MD of Discovery Park. Visit by Michael Heseltine to Discovery Park, Sandwich. (c) MATT BRISTOW
A place for science
Pfizer may be the largest tenant on site, but it is no longer the only science story at Discovery Park. In addition to global players such as Mylan, Genea Biomedx and Quvium, there are now a whole number of smaller companies continuing this site’s great tradition for scientific research and development. Companies like Centauri Therapeutics and Agalimmune, working on new approaches that could revolutionise cancer treatments by harnessing the body’s own defences to fight disease. We’re also working on the next generation of science pioneers from cleaner energy firm Coomtech and drug discovery solution experts Venomtech to clinical trial specialists CRF Health.