CEO Update | Monday 22 February 2021

The Government has announced the creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), a new UK research agency that will back high-risk, high-reward projects, set to launch next year. ARIA will be Britain’s answer to the USA’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has had an incredible impact by funding the best research and innovation wherever it is found, including supporting UK companies in the past.  The search for the Agency’s leadership has now begun and we are seeking to understand how the new entity will be run and operate – any insight from members would be very welcome.

We believe ARIA should be well-connected to the existing research and innovation ecosystem and act like a public sector venture fund in which many ideas will fail but a minority will be transformative. Collaboration will be key - the Agency should bring together the best of UK industry, universities, UKRI, Innovate UK, the British Business Bank, the MHRA, the NHS and government departments in and beyond Westminster, so that we can all work together to deliver transformative innovation for the UK and the world. 

Taking risks to create new innovation is critical to solving some of the major challenges facing society. I hope the experience of the Government Vaccine Taskforce and some of the pioneering work done by Innovate UK can inspire this new agency. One to watch and engage with in the coming months.

World’s first human challenge trials in COVID-19

The world’s first COVID-19 human challenge trials are set to take place in the UK after receiving ethics approval last week. Volunteers will be infected with COVID-19, helping us to learn more about how the virus infects humans as well as testing new treatments. The study is being delivered by a partnership between BIA member hVIVO, The Vaccine Taskforce, Imperial College London and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

Key sector appointments

I am delighted to announce that Dr David Atkins, Chief Executive Officer of Congenica, has joined the National Genomics Board as the BIA’s SME representative.

The UK is a world-leader in genomics, as demonstrated by the great work in sequencing COVID-19 variants. The National Genomics Board is a key forum to drive UK genomics for the benefit of patients and the economy and SMEs have a vital role in this. As the Chief Executive of a successful UK-grown genomic SME, a BIA Board Member and an active member of the BIA’s Genomics Advisory Committee, David is uniquely qualified to represent the BIA’s genomics community to the Board.

Another key appointment - the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult has announced Dr Ian Campbell will be joining its Board of non-executive Directors. Ian has a wealth of experience in the sector including invaluable expertise gained while holding the role of Innovate UK’s Interim Chair.

Centessa launch

Fantastic to see the launch of a new umbrella company, Centessa Pharmaceuticals, with a $250m Series A financing round. Centessa results from a merger of 10 biotech start-ups and Moncef Slaoui, former GSK boss and head of the US Operation Warp Speed has been appointed Chief Scientific Officer. The vision of Centessa is to build a pharmaceutical company with a unique operational framework that aims to reduce some of the key R&D inefficiencies that classical pharmaceutical companies face because of structural constraints. Centessa has completed the merger of 10 private biotech companies with 15 high conviction programs led by experienced teams from Medicxi’s portfolio.  Of the 10 companies six are from the UK, one from France and one from Germany. 

NSI webinar

The BIA is hosting an informative webinar this Wednesday on the UK’s new National Security and Investment (NSI) regime. The NSI 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 NSI regime will impact the life sciences sector. Our speakers include Sarah Mackintosh, Deputy Director for NSI at Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), James Marshall, Partner at Covington, and Jonathan Wakely, Senior Associate at Covington, do join us by booking here.