Savills and GEM: Funding and proximity to universities essential in the ranking of global life science cities

The pandemic has brought life sciences into the spotlight. Record funding has flowed into the sector, with venture capital rising by 69% last year. Not surprisingly, in the Science Cities ranking by SAVILLS, the US cities took the top five spots, led by Boston. China and the UK are also represented in the top 10 cities, typically having a vast domestic market and concentrated funding. No Nordic city was among the top 20. The Nordic countries are in many international comparisons close to the top, but as a small market it is challenging to compete with these major players for VC funding and attracting top talent, a major driver for life science firms worldwide. Finland and other Nordic countries could find a competitive edge by intensifying co-operation and investing in certain strong areas of expertise and in city attractiveness.

Demographic change, rising healthcare spending and technological advances underpin global growth in life sciences. Proximity to top universities, research hospitals, talented scientists, funders, and collaborative lab space contribute to where life science firms choose to locate. The linkage between universities and industries is a critical source of new talent and new ideas. In a highly competitive global market for talent, city attractiveness matters. The leading universities in life sciences are concentrated in the US and UK. Of the top 20 highest ranked universities for science, 14 are found in Savills Science Cities.

Venture capital and philanthropic grants are enabling growth and discovery in the industry. According to Savills, VC funding into life sciences has grown by 200% in the last five years, reaching $54 bn in 2020. In the 20 Savills Science Cities, VC investment into life sciences accounted for 60.3% of total VC investment into the sector globally.

The breadth of occupier requirements, coupled with their growth prospects, makes life sciences particularly appealing to property investors. The sector is resilient to wider changes in working practices as the work cannot be done from home. The challenge for the real estate industry is supplying property that meets the special requirements of occupiers.

Quality of life factors are important in attracting talent. Cities that score well in the lifestyle category offer good walk and cycle scores, clean air, low crime, international schools, and a low cost of living. Finland meets these requirements and even more. Finland is known one of the most stable and safest country in the world, providing high standard of living, one of the world’s best education systems, fresh air, pure water, clean energy, and plenty of green forests.  We are forerunner in sustainability, among others leader in the circular economy. Finland has also proven innovation capabilities in life sciences, for example in conducting biobank research.

Today, the lines between the tech and life science clusters are blurring. For example, the Finnish Vaisala, a global leader in weather, environmental, and industrial measurements, supports the measurement needs of almost all the world’s top pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. On February 18, 2021, Vaisala technology went to space, not the first time, as the Mars Rover Perseverance landed on the Red Planet, carrying Vaisala’s space-proof technology.

More in detail information: Science Cities – Savills World Research, February 2021

Irma Jokinen, researcher