CEO Update | Monday 08 February

Record UK biotech investment, new mRNA COVID-19 variant-busting collaboration and new events on the BIA calendar.

Record investment in UK biotech

New data published by the BIA and Clarivate reveals that UK biotech companies raised a record £2.8 billion in equity finance in 2020. The science of success: UK biotech in 2020 marks the best year for biotech investments we have ever recorded and shows that since 2012 investment has increased by over 1000%. Please share this on Twitter and read the full report here. If you want further material for your own company’s presentation on the strength of the ecosystem, please do share the report animation.

Underscoring this finance success story last week was the news that GW Pharma is to be acquired by Jazz Pharmaceuticals for $7.2 billion – the largest acquisition of a UK biotech company on record. GW Pharma is a great BIA member and an example of a fantastic UK life sciences business that British entrepreneurs have built in our ecosystem. I’m particularly delighted to see the commitment to the merged company having 'a significant presence in the United Kingdom, which is expected to remain an important part of the combined enterprise'. And on Friday we saw Immunocore announce the pricing of an upsized Initial Public Offering, said to be driving up the share price.

Opportunities for the sector continued, as BIA member Abingworth announced the final closing of its latest transatlantic venture fund, Abingworth Bioventures 8. This new fund of Abingworth's will provide a significant boost to a UK sector that is already shooting for the stars.


COVID- 19 vaccine news

The UK COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues at pace with more than 10 million people now having received their first dose, that’s almost 1 in 5 adults.

New data on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has shown that the vaccine could lead to a substantial fall in the spread of the virus. The study also showed that protection remained at 76% during the three months after the first dose, supporting the policy recommendation made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) for a 12-week prime-boost interval.

The focus is now on understanding variants and developing nimble ways to respond. Friday’s announcement that CureVac and the Government are collaborating on the development of new mRNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 variants is critical to this. The collaboration combines CureVac’s resources and expertise in mRNA vaccine development with the experience of the Vaccines Taskforce (VTF) and the broader UK network of experts and capabilities in vaccine research.

Clinical studies will be expedited in the UK in order to secure emergency or conditional marketing authorizations for selected vaccine candidates against the most threatening variants. CureVac will also transfer its technology to enable the manufacturing of commercial quantities of any vaccines that result from the collaboration.

The collaboration with the VTF and the Government complements and accelerates CureVac's COVID-19 program. The vaccine candidate currently in development is supported by Bayer and CureVac is co-developing its next-generation COVID-19 vaccine candidates with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Both collaborations will benefit from the variants developed with the VTF. The agreement foresees that manufacturing capabilities will be in place for rapid production of large quantities of variant vaccines for the UK if and when needed over the next three years.

As Clive Dix the interim Chair of the VTF put it this “agreement will help ensure the UK is best prepared against the emergence of any significant new virus variant as mRNA vaccines can be rapidly adapted to be effective against new virus variants more easily than traditional vaccine technologies”. The GSK and CureVac deal to develop the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines aims to target multiple emerging variants in one vaccine. It’s great to see once again a key UK-headquartered company linking with our ecosystem for this vital work.  

A new trial has launched in the UK to investigate whether giving people different COVID-19 vaccines for their first and second doses works as well as using the same type of vaccine for both doses. The idea is to provide more flexibility with vaccine rollout and there is also the possibility that mixing jabs could give better protection. Findings from this trial should be available in the summer.

I was pleased to see Nadhim Zahawi MP clarify the eligibility of key staff in our sector for the vaccination programme. Read the letter here.


Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol

At the beginning of last week, Michael Gove wrote to the Vice-President of the EU Commission, reflecting on the previous week’s Commission action invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The letter set out a number of measures that the UK wants to implement to address problems with the Protocol. This includes extending the timed-phased approach on medicines for at least another year and setting out a long-term approach to ensure no barriers to medicines entering Northern Ireland. We have for some time been saying that a year is not enough and seeking increased flexibility. We will continue to lobby and work with partners in the UK and the EU to ensure the best outcomes for patients in Northern Ireland.


State aid consultation

Last week the Government published a consultation on a new State aid regime, which notes our concerns about the ‘Undertakings in Difficulty’ rule, which has been a problem for BIA members and other R&D-intensive companies applying to Innovate UK grant competitions in recent years. With the UK and EU operating under a new framework that involves different State aid rules, there is hope that this inappropriate definition will no longer be applied to UK companies.  The BIA will be responding to this consultation but is also seeking clarity from Innovate UK and the Government on how the rule will be applied between now and when a new regime is implemented. Any companies that are faced with this rule in relation to current grant applications should contact BIA’s Head of Policy, Martin Turner, who will be happy to help.


Hope for the Biomedical Catalyst (BMC)

The BMC has been a leading campaign focus of the BIA in recent years. In response to the Government’s Spending Review, the BIA organised a letter from over 100 senior sector leaders to Nadhim Zahawi MP and UKRI CEO Dame Ottoline Leyser, urging them to refill the BMC and increase its budget.

Dame Ottoline responded to the BIA’s letter on behalf of UKRI and agreed that the BMC “is an important funding mechanism for UK life sciences SMEs”. She explained that UKRI’s ambition is “to provide greater long-term stability and certainty for companies by moving away from a time bound ring-fenced funding approach, incorporating programmes such as Catalysts into the Innovate UK core budget.”

It’s good to hear that UKRI recognises the importance of long-term Catalysts to innovative SMEs. The BIA has championed the BMC since it was established in 2011 and we look forward to working with UKRI to secure its long-term funding within Innovate UK’s core budget. You can read more in our blog here.


Steve Bates

Chief Executive Officer


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.