CEO Update | Monday 11 January

This week’s CEO blog covers the largest acquisition of a privately listed UK biotech company on record, new positive analysis of biotech stocks, our preparations for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference, the latest on COVID-19 vaccinations and a look ahead to our first virtual event of the year based on work of member companies in the North West of England.

The UK will be in the in spotlight at J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference 2021 this week after the announcement that Sanofi has acquired Kymab for $1.1bn, with the possibility of further $350m milestone payments. Both companies are BIA members, and it is the largest acquisition of a privately listed UK biotech company on record.

The deal is testament to the strength of the UK biotech sector and shows the value of the exciting pipeline of innovative treatments that UK companies are developing. Through this deal Sanofi has also gained a significant capability and footprint in the UK life sciences innovation ecosystem and a key asset covered by the UK Patent Box regime.   

This deal coming hot on the heels of the success of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine development, approval and rollout. Throughout 2020, the UK has proved itself to be a key global location for drug and vaccine development, flexible manufacturing, clinical trials, innovative regulation, next generation diagnostics and genomic understanding. The sector will be using this week to tell this great story to global investors, demonstrating the value of investing in UK life sciences companies to ensure life-changing treatments can be delivered to patients sooner. To support this work, we have published new sector data which shows that more and more investors are realising the incredible potential of investing in UK life sciences. Our new analysis with Radnor Capital Partners shows that biotech companies on London stock markets delivered market-beating returns in 2020 and attracted new investors looking for growth in a turbulent year.

During 2020, biotech companies on AIM and the main market outperformed the FTSE All-Share by over 150%, raised over £1bn in fresh equity capital and attracted 69 institutional investors, including 24 new US finance houses.

If you are virtually attending this year’s J.P. Morgan and associated conferences please shine a light on the success of the UK’s biotech sector by sharing this analysis with your contacts and interacting with our social media campaign on Twitter and LinkedIn using #InvestinBiotech. I am speaking on the UK experience at sessions at Biotech Showcase and the Wuxi Global Forum. 

Please also look out for our main annual analysis of both public and private investment in the UK biotech sector coming in early February.


COVID-19 developments

In the midst of worrying news that COVID-19 infections are increasing in the UK, it was promising to see positive data reported and acted upon by the Government coming from the International REMAP-CAP intensive care trial (with the UK at its core), showing that two more lifesaving COVID-19 drugs are effective. Tocilizumab and Sarilumab cut deaths by a quarter, in patients who are sickest with COVID-19 and reduced the length of time that critically ill patients need to spend in intensive care by about a week.

COVID-19 vaccines continue to be distributed at increasing pace across the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about two million people have been vaccinated across the UK - including the second booster jab, this means about 2.4m vaccines have been administered in total. New mass vaccination centres are now opening across the country to roll out the jabs. The UK COVID-19 vaccine delivery plan has been published today, read it here.

Last week also saw a third vaccine  regulated as Moderna’s vaccine candidate was approved in the UK and the EU. The UK has ordered an extra 10 million doses of this vaccine, taking the total order to 17 million. We also heard that Alok Sharma is to leave his position as Business Secretary to focus on climate change and lead on preparations for COP 27 in Glasgow. Taking over at BEIS will be Kwasi Kwarteng MP.


Rare Disease Framework

Over the weekend, the four UK health ministers published a Rare Disease Framework, setting out the four nations’ priorities and ambitions for rare diseases. This framework follows on from the Rare Disease Strategy published in 2013, which has now come to an end. It focuses on four key areas for change – the diagnostic odyssey; increasing awareness of rare diseases among healthcare professionals; coordination of care; and access to treatment. We’ve welcomed the Framework and the focus on improving access to treatment. BIA members are at the forefront of developing the next generation of rare disease medicines, but all too often patients face an uphill struggle to access them. The four nations of the UK will now each develop an action plan to achieve these ambitions. We will work with colleagues in each of the four nations to contribute to this development, building on the recommendations in our recent report, A rare chance for reform, to help build a medicines access and appraisal process that supports faster patient access to rare disease medicines and that recognises the value of these medicines to patients.


Gene editing consultation

Environment Secretary George Eustice announced a new consultation on using gene editing to modify livestock and food crops last week. As the UK has now left the European Union, the UK no longer has to follow EU law which states that gene-edited products must be regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Eustice said: “Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence and it starts today with a new consultation on proposed changes to English law that will enable gene editing to take place, so that we can achieve a simpler, scientifically credible regulatory framework to govern important new technologies.”

This is the first significant proposed divergence from the EU Acquis in our area and we are seeking member input ahead of responding to this consultation which closes on 17 March.


Positive sector news

It’s fantastic to see skills on the agenda as the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have announced that a new cell and gene therapy integration laboratory in Stevenage will be part-funded by the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

The new laboratory will be dedicated to the provision of cell and gene therapy manufacturing training and will utilise both digital and established teaching platforms. The laboratory supports the national drive for skills development within the cell and gene therapy industry and complements existing skills initiatives coordinated by the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, including the Advanced Therapies Skills Training Network (ATSTN) and the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC).

Congratulations to BIA member Theolytics which announced the closing of a US $6.8 million (UK £5 million) Series A round. The round was co-led by Epidarex Capital and Taiho Ventures LLC with participation from existing investor, Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI). The financing will be used to progress the company’s pipeline of candidates towards human clinical trials.


Looking ahead

I am delighted to announce that our charity partner for 2021 is Ovarian Cancer Action. Since 2006, Ovarian Cancer Action has funded £12.3 million of scientific research projects to accelerate progress in three main areas: preventing ovarian cancer, diagnosing it early, and developing effective, personalised treatments. The charity does vital work to raise awareness and find treatments for ovarian cancer and we will look to build understanding of their work in the UK life sciences sector, particularly through our 2021 Women in Biotech events.

We have a busy events calendar for 2021 and it was great to see many of you join our latest Brexit webinar. Our next event will be our regional networking event with Alderley Park looking at how the North West of England is emerging a centre for disease preparedness with presentations from several organisations at the cutting edge of these developments including Evotec, Infex Therapeutics, Yourgene.

I’d also like to remind you that applications for the Programme for Up-and-coming Life Science Entrepreneurs (PULSE) closes on 31 January.  PULSE is a three-day leadership and entrepreneurship training programme developed by the BIA and the Francis Crick Institute. The programme is for aspiring entrepreneurs and new CEOs looking for advanced practical advice, support and feedback from leading entrepreneurs, renowned professionals and CEOs. Find out more and apply 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.