CEO Update | Monday 15 February
Today marks a key milestone in the UK’s fight against COVID-19, with the vaccination of over 15 million of the most vulnerable people in the UK, the first major target of the vaccine rollout.
This fantastic news is down to the strong ‘triple helix’ relationship between industry, academia and government that has developed since February 2020 when the UK industry began to understand how we could manufacture and scale up a successful COVID-19 vaccine. The foresight and leadership of Kate Bingham and the UK Vaccine Taskforce was pivotal in securing these vaccines last summer, giving the NHS and Public Health England (PHE) critical lead-in time to work out how to deploy these complex products. What a fantastic job the NHS and its volunteer army have done to deliver vaccines in a few weeks! The next stage of the programme will see those in the next five priority groups vaccinated, with the target being for this to happen by the end of April.
As mass vaccination continues, we are starting to see data emerge on the real-world effectiveness of these vaccines. Last week data from the UK’s vaccination campaign was released which shows that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offers good protection against COVID-19 - expect more data in the coming week.
As the virus evolves, however, so must the vaccine response. The UK’s strength in genomics enables us to rapidly detect new variants circulating here and across the globe. The director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, Prof Sharon Peacock, said her team's work sequencing variants of the virus could be required for at least 10 years. So it was encouraging to hear that work is already underway on a modified Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to protect against new variants, building on the Government and Curevac deal announced the week before last.
COVID-19 therapeutics clinical trials
It’s not just in the rollout of vaccines and genomics where the UK has been globally leading during the pandemic. The UK has also hosted and run key clinical trials that have speedily delivered key clinical endpoints in the development and usage of therapeutics. This week the Government announced that key COVID-19 treatments are to be fast-tracked through clinical trials in the UK. New funding has been awarded to expand the Phase 1/ 2a AGILE clinical trial platform. Four treatments have so far been selected for AGILE: EIDD-2801 (Molnupiravir), an antiviral; VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, both monoclonal antibodies; and Niclosamide, an anthelminthic. The trialists are keen to hear from companies with potential candidates for AGILE or RECOVERY trials and the process for application, along with the assessors can be found here. If your company is submitting, please share your experience with me about the process.
Northern Ireland Protocol update
Last week, Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic had a productive meeting, agreeing to look for ‘workable solutions’ to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol ahead of a further meeting no later than 24 February. While the EU Commission seems reluctant to make changes before the original Northern Ireland Protocol is fully implemented, both sides have agreed to work closely with business groups. We are now working with the Government, to provide information and evidence to help argue for an extension to the timed phased approach to new regulatory requirements in Northern Ireland, and a mutual recognition agreement on batch testing and release between the EU and UK.
BIA Tax guide
We have been receiving questions about new tax arrangements following the end of the transition period, many of which concern VAT. As a result, we have worked with our Finance and Tax Advisory Committee (FTAC) and FTI Consulting to produce a briefing on the tax implications of Brexit for the pharmaceutical industry. You can read it here.
BIA member news
Great to see BIA member and key player in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies being visited by Boris Johnson over the weekend. The Prime Minister toured the facilities where the antigen component of Novavax’ COVID-19 vaccine will be manufactured.
Fantastic to see that Illumina has chosen four new genomics companies to join the second global funding cycle of Illumina Accelerator in the UK. Illumina also announced that over £20 million in initial UK capital commitments has been secured from a select group of investors, including a £10 million commitment from LifeArc. This is a great news for UK genomics start-ups which are gaining key resources including capital, genomics expertise and lab space.
Last week BIA member Arcinova announced that it has been acquired by Quotient Sciences. Arcinova provides drug substance, drug product and bioanalysis services to over 200 pharma and biotech customers worldwide.
It was good to see many of you last week at our Committee Summit. The BIA’s Advisory Committees inform and guide BIA policy and priorities and make up a vibrant community of members with invaluable expertise.
One to note in your diaries is the BIA’s webinar on the UK’s new National Security and Investment (NS&I) regime on 24 February. The NS&I Bill gives the Government broad powers to intervene in many types of transactions across the economy, if they give rise to national security concerns. In this webinar, we will explore how the new NS&I regime will impact the life sciences sector. Register for this free webinar here.
KTN Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Community event
The Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is running the Medicines Manufacturing Challenge Community event this March which will be an opportunity to learn more about the latest projects and the research and infrastructure developments that will accelerate the development and manufacture of vital advanced therapies, medicines and vaccines. Find out more and register here.
National Apprenticeship Week
Last week we celebrated National Apprenticeship week by showcasing the work of apprentices in our sector, particularly within advanced therapies. The Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) has been established to develop the first apprenticeship programme designed specifically to train and upskill individuals in developing, manufacturing and delivering these innovative therapies at scale. The first apprentice to graduate from ATAC was Emilia Reyes Pabon, who completed her apprenticeship through the University of Oxford’s Clinical BioManufacturing Facility (CBF). Emilia played an important role in the manufacture of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, hear her story here.
ATAC are now turning their attention to the Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2021, where they are delivering an employer lunch and learn on Wednesday 03 March. Through a panel including Symbiosis, Roslin CT, Merck SAFC, Charles River Laboratories, and chaired by ATAC, they will explore how apprenticeships are delivering the skills that employers need, the benefits of apprenticeships, and the Modern Apprenticeship in Life Sciences. To register, find out more here.
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.