CEO Update | Monday 08 March
Last Wednesday the Chancellor delivered the Spring Budget and I was pleased to hear him highlight the UK’s opportunity to grow as a life sciences superpower as a core part of the future economic strategy. We have put together a full analysis of what the Budget means for our sector which you can read here.
For the life sciences there are key reviews and consultations on R&D tax credits and listing regimes for capital markets, as well as new ways to attract entrepreneurs to the UK, and for scaling companies to attract talent.
The accompanying Build Back Better: our plan for growth document reframes the Government’s industrial strategy ambitions in a new framework, and is highly complimentary about existing work within the life sciences sector, including the Biomedical Catalyst which was praised for its ability to help accelerate innovation and drive business investment in R&D. It was promising to hear the Government’s commitment to build on this and support new opportunities to strengthen the innovation ecosystem. The BIA team is now working with Ministers and officials to understand how best to engage with some of the new opportunities this document outlines. More on this in the coming weeks.
On vaccine support, it was encouraging to see further investment in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, which includes £5 million for clinical-scale mRNA vaccine manufacturing at CPI in Darlington. The funding will support the creation of a library of mRNA vaccines for possible rapid response deployment to allow the UK to get ahead of potential COVID-19 virus variants. The BIA looks forward to engaging in the detail of these initiatives to build the optimum environment for innovative life sciences companies to grow and anchor high quality jobs in the UK for the next generation.
We have seen positive real-world data coming from the UK vaccine rollout, with both Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines significantly reducing severe COVID-19 in adults. As concern around new variants continues, it was good to see that the MHRA, in collaboration with authorities in Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland has issued guidance, which will allow new COVID-19 variant-fighting vaccines to be fast-tracked through the approval system. This means that previously authorised vaccines that are modified in response to new variants will not need a brand-new approval or lengthy clinical studies. It is also good to see UK SMEs progressing novel therapeutics that have potential against COVID-19 variants. For example an intranasal product from Pneumagen of St Andrew’s has shown promising results in new trial data published today.
UK orphan medicine access and EU market launch pilot
Infants with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) in England will benefit from early access to Novartis’ gene therapy treatment on the NHS. It comes as the latest data suggests that Zolgensma can provide rapid and sustained improvement in motor function for young children with type 1 SMA and prolong their lives. It’s tremendous that the NHS is ready to fast-track the introduction of a highly complex and innovative gene therapy without waiting until NICE publish final guidance to get going, and that this approach is backed by NICE, given the importance of administering the one-off treatment as early as possible. This deal is a significant addition to the list of innovative access deals that NHS England has struck in recent years to ensure breakthrough medicines reach UK patients rapidly.
The news comes as the European Commission announced the launch of its pilot project on ‘Market launch of Centrally Authorised Medicinal Products’. From 25 March 2021, marketing authorisation applicants for orphan medicines and cancer treatments will be invited to declare their market launch intentions for all EU markets on a voluntary and confidential basis. The pilot aims to help regulators understand why delays may occur in the marketing of certain medicines in EU Member States after they receive a marketing authorisation. This pilot project will run for 18 months, until August 2022.
Start-up Festival and Innovation Map
As part of our goal to support start-ups in life sciences, we are delighted to announce two new initiatives to help members in our sector to launch and grow their companies.
The BIA has a brand-new event for emerging companies, the BIA Start-up Festival, which will take place virtually in May. The Festival will bring together the best up-and-coming talent in the sector for a day of networking, 1-1 meetings and educational sessions designed to build on existing knowledge and allow participants to learn from peers and established industry experts alike. Find out more and register here.
Entrepreneurs in the life sciences may have come across many organisations that can provide support to establish or grow a business. However, it can take a lot of time to determine what they offer, and which organisation is the best fit. To tackle this problem, the BIA has launched an Innovation Map, an online resource designed to offer a like-for-like comparison of incubators, accelerators, training programmes and other support. The tool is currently a Beta release and we welcome user testing. To leave feedback, or suggest an organisation that should be included, please contact Sam Cruickshank (email@example.com).
Women in Biotech
This week a highlight for me will be attending the BIA’s first transatlantic Women in Biotech event taking place on Wednesday, which we are running in partnership with the US-based organisation Women in Bio. This event coincides with International Women’s Day and we will be discussing how to encourage investors to back female led/founded companies and diverse leadership teams. Take a look at the agenda and sign up here, I’m looking forward to learning a lot at the event.
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.