CEO Update | 9 May 2022
Omass Therapeutics raised $100m in Series B financing
Congratulations to Omass Therapeutics who recently announced a $100 million (£75.5 million) Series B financing round. The international syndicate of top-tier life science specialists was led by new investors, GV, Northpond Ventures and Sanofi Ventures, with existing investors, Syncona, Oxford Science Enterprises and Oxford University also participating. Proceeds from the financing will be used to advance OMass’s portfolio toward clinical trials.
Forbes 30 under 30
Last week Forbes business magazine released their ‘30 under 30 Europe’ Science and Healthcare Edition for 2022, celebrating the power young entrepreneurs and leaders have to transform business and society; I was delighted to see two BIA member founders recognised for their impact on the life science landscape. Headlining the list is James McIlroy, founder of Scotland-based EnteroBiotix, a leading microbiome therapeutics company specialising in the human gut microbiome and intestinal microbiota transfer. We welcomed Enterobiotix to the BIA community earlier this year and are excited to see them continue to grow and be pioneers within this field. Also, present on the list is Hugo Chrost, co-founder and CEO of Solvemed group, a company developing proprietary ocular biomarkers using artificial intelligence to improve the diagnosis of neurological disorders. Solvemed joined the BIA back in 2021 following participation in our PULSE programme for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, the BIA saw them stepping closer to revolutionising neurological care and drug development, and I look forward to seeing what is to come for them.
Engineering biology receives funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Over 30 innovative engineering biology projects and initiatives in the UK are receiving £20.6 million in investment from UKRI and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The funding will benefit projects that are ‘adventurous, yet focused on commercial application’, and cut across healthcare, manufacturing and agriculture. The funding boost reflects the growing importance of engineering biology to society, the economy and wellbeing at large, and the government’s commitment to maintaining a world-leading capability in engineering biology, which has been highlighted in the Innovation Strategy as one of the UK’s key emerging technologies of strength. The new investment includes supplementary funding for six Synthetic Biology Research Centres, previously established through UKRI’s 2012 Synthetic Biology for Growth programme.
IP TRIPS Waiver latest
Last week the World Trade Organisation (WTO) released an update to the proposed IP Trips Waiver text. Now that the text is open to public scrutiny after its formal proposal by the WTO Director-General, it is clear that what is proposed would do nothing to solve any of the challenges we face in 2022 and will only make it far harder for small companies pioneering in this space to develop future innovative solutions. A waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines would, if agreed, have a chilling impact on future equity investments into the small companies that have been at the heart of the solutions to COVID-19.
Small biotechs all depend on their intellectual property to deliver key innovations that underpin the current generation of COVID-19 vaccines. Alongside successful COVID vaccines, tests and therapeutics are many, many companies in our community that invested heavily but failed to make breakthroughs. This proposal directly threatens this innovative ecosystem’s ability to attract the capital needed to develop the next generation of vaccines whilst doing nothing to solve the access challenges we have in 2022.
The proposal misguidedly casts IP as a barrier to COVID-19 vaccine access and distribution despite there already being an oversupply of COVID-19 vaccines in the developing world. COVID diagnostic testing rates are declining globally despite the increased availability of affordable, accurate tests. And COVID therapeutics are already widely licensed to low-cost manufacturers in the global south. Weakening IP rights does nothing to combat stubbornly low vaccination rates in many developing countries, nor will it facilitate the distribution of these products to people around the world who most need them.”
The most urgent tasks now involve improving vaccine utilization, healthcare infrastructure, distribution, and addressing vaccine hesitancy in the developing world. It is disappointing that the WTO, instead of tackling these real challenges, continues to debate a false solution that would only prove harmful in the future.
BBSRC Business and Academia Prosperity Partnership
UKRI have launched a new funding scheme for business, the BBSRC Business and Academia Prosperity Partnership, which encourages applications for funding to support established research partnerships between business and academic institutions.
Update on Northern Ireland
I am keeping a close watching brief on developments in Northern Ireland following last week’s election and possible moves by the UK government in the upcoming Queen's speech. It was good to see the Minister for Europe and North America James Cleverly reassure on the UK’s new relationship with the EU to the European Scrutiny Committee on medicine access to Northern Ireland when he recently said “We got a good resolution, for example, on medicines. That demonstrates that where there is a real driver for innovation and reform, that can happen, and it has happened; so that is positive.”
However, I am aware that given the lack of progress in discussions on the protocol in general the UK government is considering further unilateral action.
I have already sought reassurance from ministers that the outcomes developed so far on medicines will not be put at risk by non-sector specific moves by the UK government in the weeks ahead. The progress on medicines access has been delivered by a long, sober and detailed discussion of the technical detail with industry experts and officials from the UK and Brussels working together, for which I thank members for their input.
I’ve reminded officials that there are many good inward investment reasons why UK life sciences want a positive impression of the UK in Boston Mass.
John Bell interview
This interview with Sir John Bell as the UK life science champion in the Observer is worth a read. It is great to see him championing the need for the London capital to support the opportunity on its doorstep in life science. Bell said: “We have lots of start-up capital, but we’ve got no growth capital. The City of London with its great financial institutions, pension funds and insurance companies – they do not invest in private companies.”
I’ll be discussing this agenda with Ministers this week.
Steve Bates OBE
CEO, BioIndustry Association