CEO Update | Monday 14 December
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen” sums up 2020 very well. In this blog I review the BIA’s work over the past twelve months, from innovating in the way we deliver events, to helping secure manufacturing facilities for COVID-19 vaccines, in a year that has been like no other.
Last week, in Coventry, Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive an authorised vaccine for COVID-19. This incredible achievement would not have been possible without the hard work of the UK life sciences sector. I am proud that our sector has stepped up and found the light at the end of the tunnel during the pandemic, whether it be through better diagnostics, vaccines, or other therapeutics. On the same historic day as vaccinations started across the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Life Sciences held a virtual briefing on COVID-19 vaccines and testing. We had a record turnout of MPs and heard from expert speakers from the Jenner Institute, Pfizer, and the Lighthouse Labs Network on the fantastic work of the sector to get us to this point.
The BIA’s manufacturing community has been at the heart of efforts to understand the challenges of the manufacturing and scale up of a successful COVID-19 vaccine. Back in February, the BIA conducted an audit of its manufacturing community to assess supply chains and to understand if we had the manufacturing capability here in the UK to support the scale up of a successful COVID-19 vaccine. After considerable interest from BIA member companies, the BIA COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Taskforce was created and played a vital role in supporting the efforts of Oxford University and Imperial College London, which was acknowledged in the Government Vaccines Taskforce 2020 report published last week. Read the case study of the group’s work, here. The country needs to be better prepared for future pandemics and innovative manufacturing will be at the heart of that response, here is a useful article from the Royal Academy of Engineering on what this involves.
In addition to working on COVID-19 vaccines, we supported the innovative work our members were doing to discover COVID-19 antibody therapies, through the BIA Antibody Taskforce. The consortium is made up of biotech companies, charities and academia. This collaboration led to the identification of differentiated antibody combinations that are being taken forward for manufacturing and clinical trials in 2021. Read more about the Taskforce here.
I have had the privilege of working with a broad group of logistics and procurement experts on the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kate Bingham, who has now stepped down as Chair. Through Kate’s leadership, the Taskforce secured a number of deals with vaccine manufacturers, with the UK being the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech and having secured more doses per head of population than almost any other country. Her reflections are summarised in this interview with The Times (£). Taking over as interim Chair is Clive Dix, CEO of C4X Discovery. Like Kate, Clive, as a former BIA Chair, is a renowned figure in our community and will make a fantastic contribution to the Taskforce.
Another key part of the COVID-19 story was the importance of testing. The BIA was involved in efforts to ramp up COVID-19 diagnostics, including through joining partner associations and the Government to deliver a webinar series on the National Testing Programme. To increase novel solutions in diagnostics we were involved in setting up the Testing Methods Sourcing Platform, a platform for new ideas to combat challenges such as increasing end-to-end efficiency and the speed of testing.
During the first lockdown, many of our members needed to know whether ‘critical worker’ status applied to those in our sector. After conversations with Ministers and in collaboration with ABHI, BIVDA, and APBI, a template letter was produced which enabled employers to confirm the ‘critical worker’ status of their staff. This key piece of work allowed our sector to continue its vital roles in drug discovery and medicines manufacturing.
Each year you could say has been a significant one for Brexit, from the triggering of the Article 50 notice to the Withdrawal Agreement, the Brexit clock has always been ticking. But this year feels more momentous, with a finality and a potential cliff-edge that is beyond comparison.
Despite this, much of the year has been in a holding pattern since the start of the transition period on 1 February. The same three stumbling blocks to a deal have been endlessly debated and the last few months have repeatedly seen ‘next week’ as the crunch week for Brexit. Please read our latest Brexit update here.
We have consistently supported members through our website, and through communications including our webinar series, with six webinars in the final quarter of the year as the end of transition nears. We have continued to lobby government hard, pointing out the lead time necessary for supply chains to prepare and underlining the importance of a mutual recognition agreement.
We plan to hold a further webinar this week to update on developments. Do keep an eye on the BIA twitter feed for the latest over the Christmas and New Year period. While the transition period may or may not be ending without a deal on 1 January, the UK’s relationship with the EU is not over. In 2021 we will be arguing for patients’ and the sector’s best interests and exploring the implications for companies and patients of future divergence between the UK and EU.
Finance, tax and investment
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the UK’s economy and continues to have a significant negative effect on businesses, so we were eager to find out how we could support our members. As lockdown restrictions hit businesses financially, the BIA helped to secure a £1.25bn support package for innovative firms, which included the Future Fund and Innovate UK loans and grants. As members faced barriers accessing these schemes, we provided individual support to help get them through the process.
Business as usual at the BIA continued throughout the pandemic. Following a long BIA campaign, Innovate UK launched a £30m funding round for the Biomedical Catalyst, which was announced on a BIA webinar by the Chair of Innovate UK, Ian Campbell. We secured an exemption for life sciences businesses from the punitive PAYE cap on R&D tax credits, which would have seen over half of SMEs in our sector have their R&D tax credit claims restricted, some by 100%. The change in government approach was the result of a long-fought BIA campaign led by our Finance and Tax Advisory Committee since the then-Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced the cap in November 2018.
On top of publishing our quarterly biotech financing reports, we launched Opportunity on your doorstep, a guide to investing in the UK biotech sector, to demystify our industry for generalist investors and inspire them to look more deeply at the opportunities it offers. In a year that has seen record levels of investment, biotech has never been more prominent and appreciated among the public and investor community and we are holding a webinar with the London Stock Exchange on the opportunity this week.
National Security and Investment Bill
We have received a number of member enquires about the implications of the National Security and Investment Bill currently speeding its way through Parliament – especially about how the proposals might work in practice and possible unforeseen consequences for investment in the UK’s life sciences sector. This is a topic to which I will return in the New Year but be assured that we are already raising members’ issues with parliamentarians scrutinising the detail of the planned law. We will be responding formally to the BEIS consultation on mandatory notification sectors early in the new year.
We hope that you have managed to join some of the inspiring events the BIA has run virtually this year. These included the Life Science Leadership Summit, the BIA/MHRA Regulatory Innovation Conference, Bioscience Forum, bioProcessUK, Women in Biotech, Regional Focus events on Stevenage and Harwell – along with a wealth of webinars to inform the sector and help companies navigate the challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit.
Our Charity Partner of the Year, Versus Arthritis, have been with us throughout this incredibly difficult year, contributing to a number of our events and sharing the amazing work they undertake – particularly in the areas of data and patient participation. We’re looking forward to continuing a relationship with them and to welcoming our 2021 Charity Partner of the Year very soon…
2021 will bring another packed agenda here at the BIA. Keep an eye on our website and your inbox for news of upcoming BIA events.
With over 80 new member organisations joining the BIA, 2020 has been a fantastic year for widening the expertise and diversity within our community. We continue to support all sectors of the innovative life sciences industry from advanced therapies through to cutting edge companies working on AI & digital solutions. We’ve welcomed an array of innovative SMEs, scaling biotechs and large corporates to our network, providing opportunities throughout the year for our members to grow their networks and build their company profile in the sector. The membership directory is always worth a look through to discover what other companies are up to.
Rare Disease Industry Group
During 2020, the BIA’s Rare Disease Industry Group (RDIG) developed and launched A rare chance for reform with PwC. Based on a set of specific recommendations, the report sets out a new way forward for evaluating medicines for rare and ultra-rare diseases in England. RDIG also engaged with the NICE Methods Review, securing member representation on several Task and Finish groups as well as the Methods Working Group. The BIA is currently responding to the first consultation of the review and we will continue to feed into the additional consultations in 2021. Alongside this, RDIG conducted a poll on MPs’ knowledge of patient access to rare and ultra-rare diseases, advocated for the implementation of the Innovative Medicines Fund and contributed to the further development of the Accelerated Access Collaborative. RDIG has agreed to an ambitious programme of work which will see the group’s persistent advocacy efforts carry on into 2021.
As we enter the New Year, the BIA will continue to represent the UK’s life sciences sector on a global scale, helping our community understand what Brexit will mean for biotech, continuing to support COVID-19 vaccine rollout and deliver sector-leading events. I hope that next year we may be able to see each other face to face for the first time in a long time.
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.