CEO Update | 8 November 2021

This week I’m in Geneva as part of the International Council of Biotech Associations delegation. I’ll be meeting international partners to talk about the pandemic response, the importance of strong IP and the possibilities arising from the digital revolution in our sector.

The UK is making great progress in building medicines manufacturing capability

The new report from UKRI and KTN on recent investment and collaboration in UK medicines manufacturing shows the great progress we are making in this crucial area for the sector and the UK’s economy. The impact this strategic approach with industry as had is really quite remarkable. The Medicines Manufacturing Challenge was established in 2017 to support and grow the UK’s capabilities. As of July 2021, £255 million has been invested in developing first-of-a-kind technologies to manufacture medicines and accelerate patient access to new drugs and treatments, firmly establishing the UK as a leading global hub for the development, production and delivery of cutting-edge therapies. There is still much to do, of course, including bolstering the talent pipeline, which is a priority for the BIA. The UK will only be able to get ahead of international rivals if we build a diverse and rich skills base that can run these facilities for generations to come.

The Budget two weeks ago announced a further £354 million for the medicines manufacturing agenda. We expect this will include an expansion of the £20 million medicines manufacturing grants pilot launched last year and are engaging with Government to make sure the scheme is fully accessible to SMEs. If you have any experience of the pilot, please do get in touch with Martin to help us with this work.

UK first to approve oral antiviral for COVID-19

The MHRA has shown itself to be a world-leading regulator throughout the pandemic and I was delighted to see it continue to do so last week, when it approved Lagevrio (molnupiravir) before any other country. The antiviral, developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and MSD, is the first that can be taken orally and at home to prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms.

UK companies fundraising successes

It’s great to see Closed Loop Medicine close their £13 million financing from a range of top UK and European venture capital investors. The syndicate includes LifeArc, with Meltwind and Downing Ventures also joining as new investors. Clare Terlouw, Head of LifeArc Ventures and BIA Board member will join the company’s Board. The money has been raised to finance its personalised drug plus digital therapy (DTx) combination products, which are being developed to improve outcomes for patients and clinicians through precision dosing.

Another BIA member enjoying the confidence of investors is, which announced the first close of their Series B. The cell therapy company secured $103 million from international VCs and strategic partners, including Arch Ventures, Foresite, Charles River Laboratories and Tencent. The funding will accelerate the clinical development of the company’s proprietary cell coding technology opti-oxTM.

US drug pricing reforms – one to watch

I’m also watching with interest developments in the US, where Democrats have reached an agreement on drug pricing reform which would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for the first time. The agreement forms part of President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which is yet to be approved in Congress. If approved, the agreement will allow the government's Medicare health insurance programme to negotiate the cost of 10 of the most expensive drugs by 2025, and 20 drugs per year by 2028, with some exceptions for small biotech companies. The agreement will also impose a tax penalty on companies that raise prices faster than inflation. The latest proposal is not as broad as a previous version passed in the House of Representatives, which would have allowed the government to negotiate the price of 250 high-cost medications that lack competition. However, this version was opposed by some dissenting Democrats who instead advocated for scaled-back reforms.

See you in Cambridge

I hope to see a great crowd of BIA members and friends at our Cambridge event this Thursday. We will look at case studies of industry-industry, industry-charity and industry-academia collaborative relationships, learning what made them successful. Appropriately enough, we are hosting the event in partnership with One Nucleus! Join us this Thursday at the Babraham campus. Register your participation.