CEO update | 19 July 2021

This week sees the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in England and potentially a return to more ‘normal’ times. I’ve been reflecting on the mammoth task the life sciences sector was presented with almost 18 months ago in trying to develop and deliver a vaccine for COVID-19 at unprecedented speed, and how industry, academia and Government managed to come together so quickly and effectively to find solutions to a problem we didn’t fully understand yet.

I’ve been reading the new book by Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green, Vaxxers, which tells the inside story of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine from two of the most impactful people of 2020. Giving an inspirational account of the intrinsic part they played in the race to create a functioning vaccine to combat the spread of COVID-19, this book has served as a useful reminder of just how remarkable the UK’s life sciences sector and the people who work in it are, and the crucial role companies and colleagues play in the health and wealth of our nation. It’s also BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week this week – with five episodes read by Samantha Bond each morning at 0945 – and available for a month as a podcast on BBC Sounds – one for a long car journey, or to share with family members interested in what our sector does.    

BIA’s new security support

Recognising the importance of the UK’s biotech industry, the Government is looking at how it can better support companies in the sector with their physical and cyber security. The BIA has been working with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to provide support, advice and guidance on all aspects of protective security for the biotech sector.

With the spotlight well and truly on our sector as a result of the incredible work done in the last year to tackle the pandemic, it is important we carefully consider security arrangements and ensure we do everything we can to keep our companies safe.

Our new Protecting your company page on our website signposts members to useful resources to ensure appropriate measures are in place to address security concerns. Members can also sign up to receive cyber security alerts and information.

National Security and Investment (NSI) regime updates

Last week, the BIA met with Lord Callanan, Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), to understand the progress BEIS has been making on the NSI Act since passing into legislation.

Within the next few weeks, we expect BEIS to publish the exact date the regime will come into force, which is likely to be towards the end of the year. In addition, we expect the final definitions of the sectors which will be part of the mandatory notification system, which includes Synthetic Biology and Artificial Intelligence, to be published alongside guidance on how the regime will interact with other regulatory systems and work with research-intensive sectors.

The BIA has seen and provided feedback on these pieces of guidance being published, as well as an updated version of the definition of Synthetic Biology. Having not seen the final versions of the guidance or the sector definitions signed off by Ministers, we’ll be keeping a look out for these to see the impact the new sector definition might have on our members, and how we can best support companies to understand their obligations under the new regime. To find out more about the NSI Act, read our overview here. Our FAQs section also addresses some questions and concerns raised by members.

GSK plans to invest £400m in a new life sciences campus

It was excellent to see GSK’s plans (£) for its Stevenage site, seeking to enable the creation of  5,000 skilled life science jobs over the next decade. Citing the success of the sector over the last 18 months and the Government’s new 10-year vision for the life sciences sector, it plans to unlock up to £400m of private investment to build one of Europe’s largest biotechnology campuses in Stevenage. It’s seeking to select a development partner this year for 33 acres of land on its site to transform it into a life sciences park. We are in Stevenage in September for our regional event and look forward to understanding more about this exciting development then. 

Wellcome Leap and CEPI launch RNA Readiness and Response programme

Wellcome Leap and CEPI have committed $60m to a new RNA Readiness and Response programme. The R3 programme has two goals: to increase exponentially the number of biologic products that can be designed, developed and produced every year, reducing costs and increasing equitable access; and to create a self-sustaining network of manufacturing facilities providing globally distributed, state-of-the-art surge capacity to meet future pandemic needs. Find out more about the programme and how you can submit proposals for work here.

I’m keen to see how the R3 programme and GSK’s new plans progress over the next decade which is set to be an exciting time for the UK’s biotech sector.

Opportunities in Chinese biotech

Finally, a reminder of our webinar this coming Thursday 22nd on market opportunities in the Chinese biotech sector. We’ll be joined by experts on China, Quionger He, former Head of Pharma at the Department for International Trade and Mark Hedley, Director of the China-Britain Business Council, to gain a deeper understanding of how best to access the market, engage with investors and develop a China strategy. With China’s biotech sector experiencing double digit growth, I know this webinar will be hugely beneficial for any company looking to make the most out of this booming market. I hope to see you there.