CEO Update | Monday 06 January 2020

As the New Year and new decade dawn, geo-politics has the capacity to fundamentally affect the fortunes of life sciences businesses. In my view, the five key areas of impact on our sector will be trade, competition, regulation, funding and access. It is vital that we retain a strong voice in policy debates about these key areas over the coming year to sustain an industry which has never had greater global visibility than it now does.  

1              Trade - 2020 will be the year when the UK begins to shape a new way of engaging in global trade. The agreements to be negotiated will form the basis of the operating environment for years to come and it’s crucial we get deals that enable our sector to thrive. The UK will forge a new relationship with the EU and continue to engage with leading global players such as the USA and China, which have their own agendas, are large trading blocks and have extensive experience of striking major trade deals. The recent ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by the US Congress shows that crucial issues for our sector (like the US patent protection for biologics) can be traded at the last minute. It is therefore vital that the sector engages in how these deals get developed and done.  

2              Competition - New trading relationships will lead to an increased focus on competition law. There have been significant recent decisions which will affect the shape of our sector and the fortunes of businesses within it. Here is a link to the EU’s view on Danaher’s takeover of GE life sciences bioprocessing business last month, this has led to decisions directly affecting Pall Biotech here in the UK.  

The UK Competition and Market Authority (CMA)’s inquiry into Illumina’s proposed takeover of Pacific Biosciences foreshadowed similar antitrust scrutiny from the US’s Federal Trade Commission which led to the abandonment of the proposed 1.2 billion deal.   

3              Regulation - The regulation of cutting-edge medicines, especially when it comes to health data and the application of gene editing techniques will be keenly debated this year. In the UK, I expect a forthcoming government reshuffle to move data policy away from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be reintegrated into a larger department. On gene editing over the holiday period we saw the three year imprisonment in China of He Jiankui, the scientist who gene edited babies and faced charges of illegally practicing medicine.

This is a highly charged area which is set to be a key global challenge for our sector and we must ensure that there is proportionate regulation which is effectively overseen. I believe the UK has much to offer, we can share our pioneering, positive approach and experience of regulation, particularly of mitochondrial donation

4             Funding – The UK sector enters 2020 in a strong position.  I look forward to being able to publish finance data for the full year of 2019 towards the end of this month. A good news story to kick off the New Year was Oxford Nanopore raising a further £110m. Another notable announcement came from Mercia Asset Management, which has raised £30m and recently completed the acquisition of NVM’s Northern Venture Capital Trusts. This is promising news from an investor which recognises the need for ambitious SMEs in UK regions outside London.

We should be under no illusion, even global financing is not immune to  geo-politics as these two news stories show:

5             Access – Patient access to medicines will play out very differently in healthcare systems across the world. The US Presidential Election and US domestic drug pricing debate, alongside reforms to Medicare and Medicaid in the premier market for our industry will be central to this. 2020 will also see continued Chinese desire to list innovative medicines and scrutiny by the EU of orphan medicines and rare disease policy.

In the UK, the Innovative Medicines Fund promised by the incoming Johnson Government holds great promise to provide speedy access to innovative medicines in the UK. Advocates for the broadest possible access to medicines will make their voices heard in the global discussion, particularly in multi-lateral organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This is the global backdrop against which UK companies will be operating and I look forward to joining companies and discussing this further at the global proving-ground that is the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco next week. We have produced a webinar, which you can watch here, where I give my tips to get the most out of the conference.

If you are are at the conference I strongly recommend attending the Biotech Showcase, 13-15 January where many UK companies including BIA members will be presenting. Another one to look out for is the Wuxi Global Forum, which the BIA is co-hosting, which will look at transformative solutions for patients. The BIA will also be hosting the UK reception on the Wednesday evening with the Department for International Trade. All details are covered in the webinar and I look forward to seeing many of you there. We have also put together a list of the international events the BIA will be attending and supporting in 2020, this will be added to as we move through the year.

Something you might’ve missed at the end of last year – the Financial Times produced a video which looked at the impact of Brexit on UK scientific research and shows the strength and diversity of our sector. A number of BIA member companies feature including Imperial College London, Sixfold Bioscience, The Francis Crick Institute and the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, as well as our 2018 finance data. You can watch the video here, please be aware that it is behind a paywall.

We are pleased to welcome this new report  on the effective delivery of Complex Innovative Design (CID) trials in the UK and Europe published today by the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) CID trials working group. The working group, which includes the BIA, produced ten consensus recommendations which aim to improve the conduct, quality and acceptability of oncology CID trials in clinical research and more importantly, to ensure the UK remains attractive for experimental medicine research.

We have updated our own events calendar, kicking off  with our Gala Dinner, just three weeks away on January 23. We have just a  final few places left, so do register here to network at the sector event of the year, with 700 life sciences professionals enjoying excellent food in a fabulous setting. On the night we will also be formally launching our Charity Partnership of the Year with Versus Arthritis and will be hosting a charity auction with all donations and profits going to the charity.

I’d like to close by adding my congratulations to members of our community recognised in the New Year Honours list. Professor Dame Sally Davies, the former UK Chief Medical Officer, has been appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. Sally has been at the forefront of efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance around the world. Those receiving Knighthoods include Menelas Pangalos,  Executive VP, AstraZeneca, Simon Stevens, CEO, NHS England and Jonathan Symonds CBE, Chair, Genomics England. I was also delighted to see John Innes Scientist, Anne Osbourn matching her sister Jane in getting an OBE for services to plant science.  Congratulations to all.