CEO Update | Monday 01 February

COVID-19 Vaccines

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine showed 89.3% efficacy in the UK Phase 3 clinical trial. This is an incredibly important development for the UK and the world in being able to tackle COVID-19. The UK has played a crucial role, with over 15,000 UK citizens participating in the trial. Thanks to the foresight and planning of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce (VTF), the UK has secured 60 million doses, most of which will be manufactured at BIA member FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies's facilities in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees. Further positive news came from Janssen, with their single dose vaccine shown to be 66% effective against COVID-19.

I’ve had a busy week explaining the key role of the UK biotech and life sciences sector in collaborating to build the UK’s vaccine manufacturing capability  - see here in the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph . After Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Valneva in Scotland last week to see the development of the Livingston plant which is being invested in to produce their COVID-19 vaccines, the UK ordered additional doses of Valneva’s vaccine today. Across our sector collaboration is increasing manufacturing capacity at speed, it’s great to see Sanofi agree to help Pfizer/BioNTech and Bayer have announced that they will help with the Curevac vaccine.

EU developments

The manufacturing and logistical challenge that comes in scaling the production of COVID-19 vaccines cannot be over-stated. At the end of last week, we saw the EU briefly invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, as it allowed its concerns about EU vaccine supply to escalate into an unedifying few hours of political drama. This was rightly condemned for the risk it posed to the Northern Ireland peace process and the decision was rapidly reversed. However, new export control measures are being introduced and the EU reserved the right to take further measures. A meeting between the European Commission and key industry players took place yesterday to develop a way forward and I hope the focus of everyone’s energies can be on the collaboration (public, private and cross-border) needed to produce as many doses of vaccine as possible.    

Our industry remains global. We have global supply chains and no single country has the capability to do everything alone. Despite the new restrictions, which the EU insists are temporary, the real story of vaccine manufacture, supply and delivery has been the coming together of different companies and the public sector to jointly answer the question of how to manufacture as much vaccine as possible, as efficiently as possible.

I spoke to the Today programme on this issue; you can hear me at 1 hour 14 minutes and was also covered in this BBC social media video.

However, this episode makes even more urgent the need for practical technical solutions to be agreed at the highest political levels, resolving outstanding areas of uncertainty in the Northern Ireland Protocol when it comes to medicines. I am raising these issues with Ministers today.   

Matt Hancock G7 Chatham House speech on Genomics

Last week Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced that the UK will offer its genomic capacity to sequence the full genetic code of the COVID-19 virus to scientists and governments around the world. This is an interesting example of the Government using the Presidency of the G7 this year to build UK life sciences and biotech capability into international structures. 

The rapid genetic sequencing and identification of new COVID-19 variants via the New Variant Assessment Platform, will not only inform public health measures but also be the bedrock of novel vaccine discovery and development. Life sciences companies in the UK, by sharing their industrial expertise and capability with this new Public Health England platform, can contribute scalable vaccine development to the world. Immediate opportunities for the UK innovation ecosystem are likely to be in innovative mRNA platforms, rapidly adaptable to vaccines for potential future variants. 

COVID-19 therapies - Regeneron data

More positive news from Regeneron that one of the two monoclonal antibodies in Regeneron's cocktail therapy can neutralize both the British and South African variants of the COVID-19 virus.

BIA Chair’s talk on future of ARPA

The Chair of the BIA Ruth McKernan CBE, spoke at a meeting hosted by the Foundation for Science and Technology on opportunities presented by the setting up of the UK ARPA. Ruth’s presentation was covered in Research Fortnight  where she made the point that: “ARPA should be thought of as a public sector, new technology venture fund…there to address national security challenges with a focus on speed and delivery.” Expect more from the Government on this within days.  

Annual sector finance data out this week

More positive news to come this week as we publish our latest biotech financing update, keep an eye on our Twitter and LinkedIn accounts tomorrow morning to see the investment picture for our sector over the last year.

Genomics festival

The Festival of Genomics and Biodata, one of the world’s largest events on genomics, was also held last week and it was great to hear Lord Bethell, John Bell, Sue Hill, Baroness Blackwood and many others set out their vision for the future of genomics in the UK.

Member News

Great to see BIA member Vaccitech (central, with Oxford University, to the invention of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine now known as AZD1222) announce today that their first patient has been dosed in a clinical trial for chronic hepatitis B (CHB) infection. The trial is designed to evaluate the safety and preliminary efficacy of VTP-300 both with and without a low-dose anti-PD-1 antibody in patients with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) infection. The study plans to enrol 64 patients in South Korea, Taiwan and the UK. More can be found here.  

BIA member tranScrip announced last week that it has received a significant minority investment from Palatine Private Equity Impact Fund. The deal is a landmark for tranScrip, underpinning its growth as a leading specialist service provider. tranScrip’s unique, highly skilled teams combine in-depth pharmaceutical expertise and functional competencies which allow them to lead and deliver successful development, registration and launch of new medicines across multiple therapeutic areas, including oncology, infectious diseases, respiratory medicine and rare diseases.

BIA events

We have some fantastic upcoming BIA virtual events. This week we will be holding a roundtable with the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) to explore ways that industry and research charities can deepen their cooperation during 2021 and beyond. On 10 February we will be holding our Annual Committee Summit which is a crucial mechanism for the BIA to highlight the most relevant issues facing bioscience companies. Finally I’m delighted to announce our first Women in Biotech of the year, which will coincide with International Women’s Day which we are running in partnership with the US-based organisation Women in Bio, for a transatlantic virtual event.

Another sector event that may be of interest to members is a webinar on the launch of Horizon Europe, hosted by the Portuguese presidency of the EU. Find out more here.

Best,

Steve Bates

Chief Executive Officer

BIA

Steve Bates has been the CEO of the UK Bioindustry Association since 2012. He currently chairs the International Council of Biotech Associations and has been a Board member of Europabio since 2015. Steve is the visible face of the vibrant UK life sciences industry to government and media. He sits on the UK’s Life Sciences Council and Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board. Steve has championed with government effective industrial incentives like the Biomedical Cataylst which have crowded-in private sector investment into UK SMES. He has forged links for the sector across the USA, Europe and in China. In his time at the BIA Steve has developed new member groups focused on cell and gene therapy, genomics and engineered biology. A strong advocate of partnership working, Steve champions sector collaboration with research charities and academia. Proud to lead an organisation with a diverse Board with over 40% female representation, Steve is committed to next generation talent and developing the skills needed for the sector to flourish. Before the BIA, Steve worked for Genzyme and as an advisor to the UK Government of Tony Blair. He was made OBE for services to innovation in 2017.