By: Claire Wilson. Last Updated: July 2023

The Thriving Life Science Sector in Wales

Welsh Life Science Sector at a Glance

Now let’s take a closer look at the life science sector in Wales…

BTW, if you are interested in a career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, check out our University Certificate in Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Product Manufacturing Accredited by the University of South Wales.

Why the Life Sciences Pick Wales

“The Welsh life sciences sector is evolving at a record pace. Across the country, pioneering companies, research organisations and academic institutions are acting with a level of dynamism and agility that would be the envy of many nations across the globe.”

Life Science Hub Wales (2020)

There are a few key reasons that the industry picks Wales:

  • A supportive devolved government that has the ability to make things happen quickly (including supporting initiatives like the Life Sciences Hub Wales – you can read more about that below)
  • First-class, tailored facilities – including dedicated life science incubators such as the Cardiff Medicentre and Institute of Life Science Swansea
  • A first-class combination of academic institutions, industry and government developing innovative solutions
  • Easy access to the UK market (with a population of 65 million)
  • Business-friendly tax – lowest in the G20
  • A growing talent pool – with more than 12,000 students studying relevant programmes at local universities

“Our universities are renowned internationally for their academic and clinical research excellence. The delivery of health and social care in Wales is evolving to place innovation at its centre and lead in holistic approaches that produce the best patient outcomes.”

Cari-Anne Quinn, CEO of Life Science Hub Wales (2020)

It’s also worth taking a closer look at the government support that’s helping Wales achieve this level of growth…

UK Government Support

The UK government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy highlights support to Wales’ Life Sciences sector, “particularly around developing manufacturing and supporting growth and infrastructure”.

It gives special mention to developing the hub of advanced manufacturing (attracting companies such as stem cell regenerative therapy firm, ReNeuron) and the medtech clusters of excellence in in-vitro diagnostics, single-use technology and wound care.

The Strategy lays out plans to “optimise fiscal incentives to support long-term investment”.

Welsh Government Support

In 2010, the Welsh government began a strategy to promote Wales’ Life Sciences sector. It has gone on to signal its support of the industry through establishment of growth-supporting initiatives such as:

  • Life Sciences Hub Wales (see below for more details)
  • Wales Life Science Investment Fund (a £100m fund created in 2013 with initial government investment of £50m)
  • Life Sciences Bridging Fund (a £3m fund specifically aimed at moving early research findings towards the development pipeline, created in 2015)
  • Life Sciences National Research Network

Life Sciences Hub Wales is a collaborative business space and organisation, established in 2014, and based in Cardiff bay. They are tasked with “working collaboratively with industry, health, social care and academia to make Wales the place of choice for health, care and wellbeing innovation.”

They have a target to increase the contribution of the sector to the country’s economy by £1bn by 2022 and are involved in coordinating and assisting with many different initiatives. One example is the successful development of a business case to access funding of £20m to establish a Centre of Excellence for Precision Medicine in Wales.

Life Sciences Hub Wales have five key priority area:

  • Healthy Ageing
  • Digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Precision Medicine
  • Value-Based Healthcare (VBHC)
  • Advanced Therapies

You can see more about the Welsh priority area of Advanced Therapies, and how they’re pursuing progress in this area, in the video below.

And here are some specific examples of Life Science companies that have benefitted from Welsh government support:

  • Magstim (medical device manufacturer) – received a £2.7m government funding package to double the size of its Welsh headquarters
  • BBI Group (diagnostic technology company) – received £1.8m of government funding towards building a new £8.5m global headquarters in South Wales
  • Oxford PharmaGenesis (health science communications company) – used government support to open a Cardiff office
  • GE Healthcare (leading healthcare company) – opened the Innovation Village in Cardiff, a government-backed initiative to support life science start-ups

Regional Level Support

And finally, Life Sciences has been recognised as a priority area at a regional level. The Cardiff Capital Region, for example, is “focusing specifically on medical diagnostics and devices” to maximise the growth opportunities attracted by an established hub of SMEs and start-ups, as well the talent produced within the region’s universities.

Cardiff Capital Region – A True Life Science Hub

The image below from Life Sciences Hub Wales shows some of the key clusters of academia, business, and research throughout the country.


As you can see, as well as several localised and developing clusters throughout the country, the Cardiff Capital Region is quickly establishing itself as a true hub for the Life Science Industry and – more specifically – medical diagnostics and devices.

An industrial hub is generally considered to be a geographical area that has:

1. A strong presence of companies of various sizes

In the Cardiff Capital Region, there are a cluster of over 200 businesses working in medical diagnostics and devices conducting various stages of research, development, and manufacturing.

This sector is one of the fastest-growing in the area and currently employs over 8,000 people.

Companies that are manufacturing in this area include:

  • BBI Group – beginning in 1986 in Cardiff, BBI group is now a “leading expert in immunoassay development and manufacturing services”. Their glucose oxidase is used in over 5 billion blood glucose monitoring test strips every year. You can see more about the BBI group in our company profile below
  • ConvaTec – a “global medical products and technologies company” with products in the areas of ostomy, continence, and wound care. They operate a manufacturing site in Rhymney. In 2007, the company invested £20m in the site, which was producing the material used to make 100 million dressings per year.
  • Flexicare – making a range of medical devices, including respirators and ventilator breathing systems, this Mountain-Ash based company moved to 24/7 manufacturing and hired additional production staff in 2020 to meet the demand for such devices as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Invacare – designs and manufactures a range of “mobility and independent living products”. Based in Pencoed, the company employs over 250 people.
  • Ortho Clinical Diagnostics – diagnostics company with products to screen, diagnose, monitor and confirm diseases. The Pencoed facility supplies immunoassay and immunohaematology products to 125 countries around the world.
  • Technovent – the UK’s leading supplier of its own-brand specialist maxillofacial prosthetic materials, based in Bridgend.
  • Thermo Fisher – operating as Sterilin, this is the “leading provider of single-use plastic products serving the microbiology, life sciences and clinical markets”. They employ approximately 270 people in Newport. You can see more about Thermo Fisher in our company profile below.
  • Zimmer Biomet – employer of over 800 people in Bridgend, the company manufactures orthopedic surgical devices. In 2019 they announced plans to invest £2.5m to create a specialist “European Centre of Excellence for Porous Coating” at the site.

2. Strong local academic institutions providing a well-qualified talent pool and complimentary research

“We now have to continue to fill the sector with graduates who are ready to step in to this new and exciting sector and continue to help it grow into something even bigger and better.”
Cardiff Capital Region, 2020

The Cardiff Capital Region is strongly supported by local academic institutions, including:

University of South Wales

The University of South Wales is a modern university with 3 campuses across the Cardiff Capital Region. It has a focus on preparing students for life after graduation, and 95% of graduates are in work or further study within six months of graduation.

The university feeds directly into the talent pool for the Life Science industries of the Cardiff Capital Region with courses including:

Cardiff University

Cardiff University is the 10th largest university in the UK and has a long history of research (that’s included two Nobel Prize Winners). The university ranks 3rd in the UK for effectiveness in converting research into successful companies.

Cardiff University spinouts adding to the Life Sciences cluster of the Cardiff Capital Region have included:

3. Infrastructure to support industry

Supporting organisations and companies can come in many forms within an industrial hub.

Across the Cardiff Capital Region, examples include:

  • Cardiff Medicentre – a joint venture between Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. Described as “a business incubator facility that provides space and support for biotech and medtech startups” – ranging from desks and office space to laboratories.
  • GE Healthcare Innovation Village – established as a result of GE Healthcare’s commitment to collaboration. The campus aims to support and grow emerging life science businesses and academic spinouts. GE Healthcare works with tenants, providing advice and support to help turn their ideas into market-ready products.
  • The Life Sciences Hub (as described in the section above)
  • Renishaw Healthcare Centre of Excellence – the global precision engineering company opened its Healthcare Centre of Excellence in 2016. This facility allows for the manufacture of custom medical devices and provides “education and training for the life science community” through features including a mock non-sterile operating theatre.

This category also includes suppliers and services that work in support of, or in a complimentary way to, the industry. The Compound Semiconductor Cluster is a good example of this within the Cardiff Capital Region’s hub.

4. The support of local government and industry bodies

As outlined above, one of the Cardiff Capital Region’s official priorities is “focusing specifically on medical diagnostics and devices”.

This means that local industry can get direct support for projects that help towards the region’s goal of developing this hub. Their current approved projects include:

What Life Sciences Contributes to the Welsh Economy

“Our nation hosts 20% more life sciences businesses than the UK average. Ranging from pioneering SMEs and start-ups to global blue-chip corporations. Combined, the sector…contributes over £2 billion in turnover to the Welsh economy.”

Cari-Anne Quinn, CEO of Life Science Hub Wales (2020)

Wales’ Life Science sector turnover is over £2bn (3.6%) and the Gross Value Added to the economy (GVA) is 3.8%. From that strong start, the life sciences sector in Wales is continuing to grow and it is expected to add £1bn GVA between 2017 and 2022.

While R&D activities are prevalent, 75% of the market is “export focused”.

And although there is a range of Life Science activities present throughout the country, MedTech is the largest subsector – accounting for around 60% of companies and over 50% of the Life Sciences workforce in the country.