CEO Update | Monday 20 May 2019

UK life science certainly feels more Champions League Final (Spurs v Liverpool) than Eurovision (UK last place) this week. First, LifeArc has announced that it has sold most of its royalty interest in the blockbuster drug Keytruda for $1.3bn (£1.02bn) and plans to invest the windfall in developing new treatments. The sale was made to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, one of the world’s largest retirement funds. We were thrilled that recently-appointed LifeArc CEO, Melanie Lee, was the recipient of our lifetime achievement award at the BIA Gala Dinner in January – it’s fantastic to see her leading the way on LifeArc’s monetization process. This is great news for the UK life sciences ecosystem, research and patients. You can read more about this in the Financial Times.


The Institute of Cancer Research also announced a bold new strategy last week – the world’s first Darwinian drug discovery programme for the development of cancer drugs. The ICR will initially invest £75 million in creating a global centre of excellence in understanding and defeating the evolutionary techniques cancer cells use to evade the therapies we develop against them. I’ve been lucky enough to see the site that will host the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery in Sutton and hope we can host a BIA event there in the coming months.


What’s more, BIA members and Edinburgh-based Synpromics Ltd and Lonza Pharma & Biotech announced a partnership last week for the commercialisation of a number of inducible promoters, which will help to improve the manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals. It’s a great example of how the UK industrial strategy of supporting SME synthetic and engineering biology has led to a much bigger project to improve the efficiency of production of several types of biological drug – and expanded R&D from a global player in its UK facility. In April 2019, Synpromics secured an Innovate UK grant, and it has worked together with Lonza to develop and test these innovative promoters in Lonza’s industry-leading GS Xceed® Expression System. The promoters allow genes to be switched on and off by changes in the cell’s surrounding environment and will be used by Lonza to enable efficient production of several types of biological drug. This maintains Sympromics global leadership in its exciting capability.  


Syncona have also spawned yet another cell and gene therapy company, supporting Quell Therapeutics with an initial £34million. It will be headquartered in the UK and is a collaboration between Syncona, King’s College, UCL and Hannover Medical School. Plenty of excellent member news to excite participants at Bio Equity in Barcelona this week where the BIA is fully represented.   


If you loved the Explainer series we launched last year, you’re in luck, as we launch new summarised versions of the reports today. Whether you’re interested in Antimicrobial Resistance, Cell and Gene Therapy, Engineering Biology or Genomics, within these reports you’ll find plenty of information on the BIA members working at the cutting edge of these research areas. If you would like some hard copies of these summaries, please get in touch. We hope you enjoy reading them!


It’s also great to see the BIA MAC Leadership Programme (LeaP) go from strength to strength – one of our cohorts enjoyed a visit to the BMW Manufacturing Plant in Cowley, Oxford last week during a site visit to member Adaptimmune as part of their work to learn from other sectors.


On Brexit, despite talks between Labour and Conservatives breaking down, the Prime Minister is expected to take the Withdrawal Agreement back to Parliament for a fourth attempt at getting it through a vote. This is expected to take place the week commencing 3 June. However, without a deal with the Conservatives, Labour have said that they will vote against it – though there were reports at the weekend that the Prime Minister will make a bold offer to the Opposition. Number 10 had been informally saying that if the vote isn’t passed, choice will be no-deal or revoking Article 50. Pressure on the Prime Minister to set a date to step down continues, and Boris Johnson, Esther McVey and several other senior Conservatives have now publicly stated that they will stand for leader. With the European Elections taking place this week, in both the UK and across the EU, BIA will be concentrating on ensuring that UK MEPs understand the priorities of the sector. If you are engaging your local MEPs/candidates, please let us know if you would like the BIA briefing. We will be continuing to advocate our policy priorities to key stakeholders during this time of potential change. You can catch up with our latest Brexit webinar on YouTube, or listen to the podcast here.


With the BIO conference in Philadelphia two weeks away, we’ve produced a webinar guide to the conference with a UK slant on how to make the most of your time and what makes most sense if you use this global event to catch up on the UK scene.


Finally, the we are delighted to invite you to join us in supporting Action Medical Research – our Charity of the Year partners – on 14 July as part of Ride4Rare. This new cycling event has three professionally designed routes suitable for all abilities (ranging from 52km to 161km) and the amazing Tour de France Fan Park offering fun for the whole family with cycling legends and food villages. We hope that we can get up to 100 ecosystem participants (members and non-members) to take part, network in a new way, and raise money for charity. Contact Miriam Gedge if you would like to learn more about how to participate.


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