CEO Update | Monday 30 September 2019

It’s been a busy week for our sector, on both sides of the channel and this week’s blog reflects that.


In Brussels, as well as supporting Europabio events to promote biotechnology in general, the BIA supported an excellent Science Business dinner to discuss how best to promote continued co-operation whatever happens with Brexit. There are three areas that we are watching closely as the European Parliament questions the new European Commissioners-designate this week, that will give insight into the policy direction of the EU in the coming years.


First on health policy with regard to orphan medicines and Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) - Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner-designate for health and food safety has promised to work with the commissioners for the internal market and research, as well as other actors, “to encourage the development of new business models fostering innovation on new antibiotics.” And on the proposed revision of the EU’s orphan and paediatrics drug regulations she said: “I will consider measures to provide the right incentives for innovation in areas of unmet needs, with a view to ensuring that new treatments are accessible and affordable across the EU.” An area to watch.


Second on innovation policy, Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner-designate for innovation and youth, told MEPs that Horizon Europe should not benefit EU’s competitors and should be designed to allow the bloc to “restrict openness when dictated by the EU’s strategic interests.” She said “Horizon Europe should enable us to pursue strategically targeted cooperation and restrict openness when dictated by the EU’s strategic interests” and that would include restricting access to a planned fund under the new European Innovation Council to help companies scale up. Again, important that Commission thinking doesn’t prevent any Brexit deal to enable UK companies to participate and fully engage.


I hope that the MEP’s questions this week will bring further insight into Commission thinking, and that the new players consider the strategic benefit to Europe of a continued close co-operation with the UK on science, innovation and health.


Third – regulation on Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs) – a topic that emerged at the Commission’s Research and Innovation Days. The European Medicines Agency’s Corinne de Vries Head of Science and Innovation Support speaking at a session on partnerships said her discussion with researchers show that “the current legislation is not designed for the medicines that are being developed”. Her concern was that there are variations in national level perspectives as to whether a CAR-T like treatment “Is this a transplant or is this a medicine?”. Dealing with these regulatory quandaries in the design of Horizon Europe she said, would be “game-changing.” This could possibly mean moving the decision making power from national to EU level.

Our sector has made the headlines at both the Conservative and Labour Party conferences.


Ahead of the Conservative Party conference, in a press release for the Sunday papers Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the UK life science industrial strategy and pledged UK government backing for a new British Business Bank fund to support scaling life science companies. My immediate reaction focused on the unreported announcement of a “new talent scheme of UK fund managers to attract the best from around the world” saying it may prove the most important of the package. I stressed that more work remains to be done to encourage UK pension funds to back Britain’s growing life science businesses and for London to become the go-to public market for life science businesses. I also commented that government support aimed at leveraging in private sector investment must work at both the pace and scale needed by growing life science businesses.


I am meeting the British Business Bank in October and will press to ensure the newly announced dedicated fund can practically invest into companies as soon as possible. This is particularly important in the coming weeks as UK based life science venture capital funds look set to lose access to European Investment Bank money, which has been a cornerstone investor in funds supporting our sector, as a result of Brexit. Of course, if this new mechanism is not able to fund life science companies by the time of Brexit, a proven, cost effective, existing mechanism - the Biomedical Catalyst run by Innovate UK- is available. As regular readers know we have long argued that in any case this should be refilled and opened immediately. 


In Brighton last week, Jeremy Corbyn used his Leader’s speech at the Labour Party conference to announce that a Labour government led by him would ‘secure generic versions of patented medicines at a price that is affordable for the NHS, make public funding for research conditional on the result drugs being priced affordably for all and create a new, publicly-owned generic drugs manufacturer.’ This surprise announcement, did not go through the party’s constitutional policy making process ahead of conference, and therefore still has to be approved at a Clause V meeting to become a manifesto policy.


This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the development of medicines ecosystem in the UK (which includes SMES, Universities, Charites and NGOs), which is underpinned by a strong and robust intellectual property system that incentivises investment. I pointed out that it is NHS patients who would lose the chance of new life-saving treatments if the UK becomes a hostile environment for intellectual property. Alongside Mr Corbyn’s announcement, the document Medicines for the Many was published, which offers the ideological underpinning of his policy direction.  The BIA is immediately gathering views from across the ecosystem as a first step in our campaigning efforts to show the negative impact of such a move and is something I will be returning to in future blogs.  Please do let me know your views on this announcement.


On Brexit there are just 31 days to go till the latest no-deal deadline. We have announced a series of Brexit “Business Readiness” events to help life sciences SMEs prepare for a no-deal Brexit. Events include free Brexit Readiness sessions at the UK Bioscience Forum in London on October 17 and a series of regional events with partners across the UK, including ones this Thursday in Oxford and Cambridge. The BIA’s popular monthly Brexit webinar briefings will now be weekly, giving companies up to date government guidance and advice on Brexit preparedness the latest is here.


The next webinar will be this Friday 04 October, please sign up herePlease visit our update Brexit Portal which contains advice and links to the latest guidance on Brexit for biotech businesses and the wider life sciences sector. 


In other sector news it was great to hear that BIA member Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult has completed six additional modules of cleanroom space at its manufacturing centre in Stevenage, doubling its capacity. That’s not the only change at Catapult: BIA board member Keith Thompson announced that he will be stepping down as CEO of Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult from next April. Through Keith’s leadership the Catapult has gone from strength to strength and his partnership with us has worked fantastically. I wish him the best of luck in the future.


Finally, I’m glad to report that the BIA’s ‘Women in Biotech’ event at Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge, last week was a sell out and I’m glad to see that an increasing number of male members are in attendance. The event was expertly chaired by Sally Shorthose, focussing on diversity challenges and how to address them in the workplace.


Do book to join us at the Bioscience Forum in London on October 17th, we have put together an informative programme packed with talks about the issues the industry is currently facing and aiming to provide you with information and tips that you can then apply in your daily work.