CEO Update - 6 November 2023
UK TechBio boost from AI Safety Summit
The UK was at the centre of the global discussion on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) as world leaders attended the AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park last week. The Summit provided the backdrop to some key announcements that will help drive our TechBio sector.
The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) plan to get the UK match fit for AI was UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) unveiling investment in 12 Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) in AI, based at 16 universities. The investment will ensure that the UK has the skills needed to seize the potential of the AI era and to nurture the British tech talent that will push the AI revolution forward. Doctoral students will specialise in areas such as developing a responsible and trustworthy future for AI, healthcare, agriculture and environmental sustainability.
As Kedar Pandya, Executive Director of Cross-Council Programmes at UKRI, explained: “This £117 million investment will involve multiple business and institutional partners for the CDT. These include well-known brands such as IBM, Astra Zeneca and Google, as well as small to medium-sized enterprises that are innovating in the AI field.”
A good example of how £28 million of this investment will be spent can be seen in the work Imperial College London is doing to train over 120 researchers to develop patient-ready AI technology.
The BIA and our TechBio community have supported these bids as part of our skills development strategy over the past two years, so it is great to see some of that work coming to fruition.
In a speech on Thursday, the Prime Minister announced that £100 million in new government investment will be targeted towards areas where rapid deployment of AI has the greatest potential to create transformational breakthroughs in treatments for previously incurable diseases. The AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission will capitalise on the UK’s unique strengths in secure health data and cutting-edge AI. The funding is planned to test and trial new clinical trial technologies within the next 18 months. Over the next 5 years, the UK plans to transform mental health research by developing world-class data infrastructure to improve the lives of those living with mental health conditions. I look forward to understanding more of this plan when meeting life science Mission leads in the coming weeks and see that the Accelerator Mission announcement is still subject to a “full business case”, so we will look for opportunities to ensure the voice of the UKs growing Techbio community is heard as that case is built.
New BIA PwC Rare Disease report and webinar
Earlier today, we published a new report assessing the extent of progress in improving access to rare disease treatments in the UK, and the challenges that remain. The 'Evaluating patient access to rare disease treatments' report was developed by the BIA’s Rare Disease Industry Group (RDIG), with research provided by PwC. The assessment is based on extensive research and conversations with key stakeholders in the UK rare disease space, including NHS England, NICE, patient groups, clinicians and industry. The report also identifies successful examples of processes and schemes that help to facilitate access to rare disease drugs in comparable OECD countries that could become international best practice, including in the UK. On the back of the report, we are calling for the UK to demonstrate international leadership in improving the lives of people affected by rare diseases, including through greater collaboration between stakeholders and uptake of international best practice.
We held a webinar earlier today to discuss the report’s key findings with a panel of experts. The panellists shared their perspectives on the key challenges in improving access to rare disease countries in both and UK and internationally, as well as reflecting on the potential impact of some of the changes that are on the horizon – including the revision of the European pharmaceutical legislation and the MHRA’s new International Recognition Procedure. If you missed the webinar then the recording will be available on the Resources Hub shortly.
Our Future Health
Congratulations to Our Future Health who have signed up its one-millionth volunteer just over a year since it started recruiting. This shows the support the UK public has for the country’s biggest-ever medical research project and why the UK is a great place for life science research and development.
Deep Biotech: applying the power of biotech to address some of our planet’s biggest challenges
More and more life sciences companies recognise the urgency of addressing pressing global challenges, including climate change, pollution and food security. Responsive to our members’ needs, the BIA is developing its offer to support those companies working beyond human health and focusing on planetary health. This is reflected in our recent response to DSIT’s engineering biology consultation. Our Deep Biotech community is growing, and we are rolling out a range of activities throughout 2024 to help them start, grow and deliver world-changing innovation in the UK. To learn more about these exciting developments, see our recent blog by Maddie Cass.
Second BIA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Workshop
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can be key to inclusion at work and by aligning their work with corporate and employee expectations, they can help people feel more included in the workplace. In our second member workshop this week we will use the evidence to discuss workplace inclusion, explore solutions and hear from some incredible companies leading the way on workplace inclusion. We know that supporting colleagues from different backgrounds, with different needs and different abilities can be a challenge within scaling biotech organisations. The evidence we collected and shared earlier this year showed a difference in how colleagues within our sector felt about flexibility, safety and culture within the workplace as well as how they were supported and managed. So I hope this practical chance to share challenges and discuss best practice is useful to members on this journey.
UK International Trade Week
This week is the UK International Trade Week (ITW) led by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT), featuring a variety of activities for companies such as events, workshops and webinars, most of which are free to join, so take a look. The publicity says: “The week’s activities are for UK companies of all sizes and sectors – whether selling goods or services – you just need an interest in growing your business. Whether you’re looking to secure your first export contract or expand your existing international sales, ITW will have something for you.” I quickly searched for the event that “explain the benefits of the UK’s trade agreements” for our sector but there isn’t one this year. However, there are two life science-focused events, one from the new Global Talent Network (GTN) explaining how it aims to attract the best global talent across the AI, Quantum and Life Science sectors to the UK with a current focus on India and the USA. The other is from the DBT Latin America and the Caribbean experts from Healthcare and Life Sciences to learn about those markets, regulatory landscapes and business opportunities. I’d welcome member feedback on if and how they are engaging with this activity and what is most useful to you.
King's Speech this week and Jefferies Week make for a busy November
The legislative programme for the Government for the next period will be set out amid the pomp and circumstance of the first King's Speech in parliament tomorrow – we’ll update on what it means for our sector thereafter. This keeps me from BioEurope this year (hope partnering is going well) I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in London for the vibrant week of events that now surround the Jefferies Healthcare Investment conference – but I’m not sure any of these will surpass the excellent time that was had by all at our Women in Biotech event in Oxford last week.
Steve Bates OBE
CEO, BioIndustry Association