The turn of the year is that traditional time to reflect on earlier successes and to anticipate future achievements. An appropriate time, then, to publish a book celebrating the vibrant life sciences cluster that has grown up on Milton Park, one of the largest mixed-use business estates in Europe.

Commissioned by Milton Park owners and managers MEPC, An Evolution: The Story of the Milton Park Life Sciences Cluster was fittingly launched at an event hosted by OBN (formerly the Oxfordshire Bioscience Network), the UK’s membership organisation for emerging life sciences businesses which also created, researched and compiled the publication. OBN has itself been based at Milton Park since 2007.

OBN chief executive Dr Jon Rees said: “The life sciences cluster on Milton Park has grown 50 per cent in the last five years, now comprising nearly 50 companies.

“Although our research points to the Oxford and Thames Valley as arguably the largest cluster in the UK, there has not, until now, been a publication that clearly communicates the importance of this location.”

“Ten case studies, drawn from interviews with senior managers of established companies, provide an insight into the exciting research and development taking place on the park.

“They also chart key milestones in each company’s evolution and describe how Milton Park played its part in supporting their growth. Our hope is that these success stories will help to drive inward investment into Oxfordshire.”

The book’s foreword was written by Lord Michael Heseltine who opened the park’s first business development centre in 1993.

Paying tribute to MEPC’s “bold decision” to invest in buildings for biotech companies, he said: “It is a testament to the courage of the entrepreneurs who have grown the cluster that they include among their achievements not only the raising of many hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, but the invention and commercialisation of therapeutic drugs, diagnostic and medical device technologies, that contribute to better healthcare for all.”

Milton Park’s own story started in the First World War when the area was used as a military depot.

The 6,800 people who work there today owe a huge debt of thanks to the vision of two men, Ian Laing and Nick Cross.

In 1979, Mr Cross, then managing director of the English Property Company, bought the land to develop as a warehousing site.

But he and university friend Mr Laing soon realised the park’s unique location, close to the largest concentration of research and development in Western Europe, was its key asset.

A strategy meeting was arranged with Martin Wood, founder of Oxford Instruments, and John Harwood, chief executive of Oxfordshire County Council.

Within an hour, all were agreed. Milton Park would focus on providing properties tailored for science-based companies at various stages in their life cycles.

Selling their shareholdings in Milton Park to MEPC, Mr Cross and Mr Laing turned their attention to investing in technology-based and life science companies.

In 1991, they helped to establish the first such company on Milton Park — Oxford Asymmetry.

The story of how Oxford Asymmetry grew, becoming part of Evotec and now one of the UK’s largest private sector employers of chemists, features as the first of the book’s case studies.

The other organisations featured range from alternative fuels firm Green Biologics, to global therapeutics companies Amgen/BioVex, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Immunocore and Oxford BioTherapeutics encompassing diagnostics (Oxford Immunotec) and medical devices (ResMed); to innovators like PsiOxus Therapeutics and Oxitec - the first and only company in the world to use genetically sterile insects to control the spread of human and plant diseases.

MEPC’s commercial director, Andrew Barlow, said: “We wanted to celebrate and recognise the success of individuals and enterprises in the Milton Park life science cluster. We believe that, by sharing how it started, its key players, and showing the scale it is today, we will increase awareness of its strength and exciting future.”

“It is an affirmation of our ongoing and future commitments to life sciences on the park. We have an ambition for continued growth built on years of sustained investment by MEPC, but we are responding to today's market as we know there is strong demand, and not just in Oxfordshire.

“We have about half a million square feet of laboratory space — all of which is occupied. We have a wide programme of investment into a variety of facilities, not just laboratories, across the park which will continue into 2014/15 and beyond.”

An Evolution: The Story of the Milton Park Life Sciences Cluster is available to download free of charge from the MEPC and OBN websites. * This page is compiled by OBN: supporting emerging companies,