CEO Update | Monday 16 September 2019

Last week hidden beneath the Government's announcement that students will be able to stay in the UK for two years, there were developments on the UK life science industrial strategy, which the BIA has partnered with government on for the last three years. 

This included the announcement of a £200m whole genome sequencing project which BIA member companies are at the forefront of. This will support the complete sequencing of the genetic code of all 500,000 participants at the UK Biobank health research resource based in Stockport.

BIA member companies Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and the Wellcome Trust are investing a combined £150m towards this project, with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) providing a further £50m. Much of the sequencing will take place at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, based in Cambridge, and the results will help the NHS treat patients better.

This partnership between government, industry and health experts will lead to tangible benefits for NHS patients, to find out more details please take a look at the Government press release and click here to learn more about Genomics.

In addition, there was the announcement of seven new data hubs which will be led by Health Data Research UK (HDRUK), this will allow for patients, researchers and clinicians to work together to explore the safe and ethical use of health data. The seven hubs will each look at a specific disease area, please follow this link for more information.


BIA member company IQVIA is a key partner of DATA-CAN - a new National Cancer Health Data Research Hub, designed to transform the accessibility of high-quality cancer data across the UK. To read more about IQVIA’s role in this new hub, please follow this link.

I also caught up with Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business and Industry, who has taken over lead responsibility for the life science sector in his department.  He was excited to learn of the BIA’s new partnership with the Wuxi I-campus and AstraZeneca and accepted an invite to join us at our Gala Dinner in the new year. Do retweet his tweet. 

On Brexit, Operation Yellowhammer no-deal documents were published last week, which shows the Government’s own assessment of the significant impact that a no-deal Brexit will have on several critical areas, including medicine supply to the UK.

Mitigation measures have already been taken by much of our industry (thank you all). In conjunction with the Department of Health, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and NHS we have all been developing stockpiles, expediting batch releases and determining alternative routing plans. However, these remain untested in practice. 

I stressed to the Government last week that with 45 days to go till the latest no-deal deadline, companies still have no named ports or explicitly communicated government enabled alternative routes for category one medical supplies. This forms a core part of the multi layered approach agreed with the Government by industry. On this, the UK is less prepared for a no-deal exit on October 31 than it was for the last no-deal deadline. In simple terms we remain ferry uncertain.

In addition, we await this week’s Supreme Court verdict on the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament and see if that impacts on government plans for Brexit and no-deal.

There have also been lots of developments in Brussels with a new Commission. More on this next week during European biotech week  but looking at our sector I’m not sure divisions of the Commission - moving from DG Grow to Health - are an initially encouraging sign of bureaucratic intent. I was also interested to see that the European Parliament is concerned that the European Medicine Agency (EMA) needs more firepower as the chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, Pascal Canfin wrote that “where appropriate, more financial and human resources must be allocated … to promote a science-based approach in the Union.” My proposed solution would be for the EU to better use the MHRA expertise that is available to it currently, rather than bench British technical expertise as a punitive EU Brexit policy that hurts us all.

On Thursday, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee released its inquiry report on the balance and effectiveness of research and innovation spending. It was disappointing to see a lack of support for policies to back industry and raise business R&D investment. A refilled Biomedical Catalyst (BMC), coupled with globally competitive R&D tax credits and long-term pension fund investment, would enable our sector to significantly contribute to the 2.4% R&D target while also delivering real benefits for patients in the NHS and beyond. We’ll keep pushing home these messages to government and Parliament.

Finally this week we have our Regulatory Innovation conference, where we will hear from Dr Ian Hudson CEO of the MHRA in one of his final public appearances before he steps down from his role. Under his leadership, we have seen many innovations that have ensured the MHRA has had a positive and open relationship with the UK life sciences ecosystem.

Staying on departures, it was announced that Sir Mark Walport will be retiring as Chief Executive of UKRI in the new year. I thank Mark for being a champion of the life sciences sector and wish him well in his future endeavours.

As Brexit remains fast moving stay tuned for further developments on industry briefings in the coming days.