CEO Update: Monday 9 October

In an overlooked part of her speech to the Conservative Party Conference the Prime Minister said, “we are a nation of dreamers, with the capacity to deliver on those dreams too,” and there is no better example of that than the development of Nobel winning cryo-electron microscopy.

Last week the co-founder of BIA member company Heptares, Richard Henderson, received the Nobel Prize in chemistry. He was jointly awarded the prize with two other scientists, for their work on developing cryo-electron microscopy, which allows high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in a solution. What’s more, the partners in the three year Cambridge Pharmaceutical Cryo-EM Consortium which is now leading the charge on making the most of this technology for drug development are all BIA members.

Last year Astex Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Heptares Therapeutics, UCB and FEI (now part of Thermo Fisher) came together with the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology and the University of Cambridge’s Nanoscience Centre to use the best kit, software and minds to develop how best to utilise the technology at pace. As Richard said then “It is delightful to know that the development of cryo-EM, which many people have worked on for many years, has now reached mainstream structural biology. It is particularly satisfying that pharmaceutical companies are keen to evaluate the approach for drug development." As a community we need to celebrate not only the global recognition of world leading science but explain to investors how we are building and growing companies at the cutting edge that are successfully commercialising the opportunity. Please share this fantastic story with others.  

About as far as you can get from a Nobel announcement I began last week by leading a BIA delegation to Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference, where I took part in a discussion alongside Kit Malthouse MP, Chair of the APPG for Life Sciences, and former science minister Lord Willetts. The discussion centred around the Salford Lung Study, a public-private partnership led by GSK, which digitally linked primary and secondary healthcare in the region to allow real-time data collection in clinical trials. Political attendees were impressed to hear how the project is being held up as an exemplar around the world, demonstrating the unique British R&D offering.

 Later on, we held a fringe event entitled “Britain’s got talent: what happens to innovation as we leave the EU?”. The panel was chaired by Kevin Schofield, Editor of Politics Home, and consisted of myself, Ranil Jayawardena MP, member of the House of Commons International Trade Committee (and former member of the Home Affairs Select Committee), Dr Sarah Main, Executive Director of CASE and Steve Turley, Managing Director of UCB UK & Ireland. Together we discussed how people are the key element that drives innovation in the UK and that as the UK leaves the EU we need to ensure that the UK has the people that are able to help it remain a global innovation leader – both through development of talent via industrial strategy and the movement of skilled people. We also answered questions from the audience and touched on issues including Brexit, trade and regulation. A big thank you to UCB for their support in putting on the event.

It was encouraging to see several aspects of the life sciences mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech, even if the content was overshadowed by an eventful presentation in much of the media coverage.  Mrs May cited genetics as an area where “we are a nation of dreamers, with the capacity to deliver on those dreams too,” as well as highlighting “pioneering medical treatments” developed in the UK as a source of national pride. The PM also committed to the “biggest expansion in training for doctors and nurses” to safeguard the future of the NHS, and proposed switching to an opt-out system for organ donation.

Looking forward, one of the highlights of the year, the UK Bioscience Forum, is finally upon us. On Thursday hundreds of delegates from across the sector will descend on the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for a packed day of presentations, panel discussions, and networking. This year’s event, themed ‘Building something great – UK’s global bioscience cluster’, promises to be as vibrant and enlightening as ever. One of the many highlights will do doubt be the keynote speech by Professor Sir John Bell, on the recently published Life Sciences Industrial Strategy which he wrote for the Government. I look forward to seeing you all there, and at the ever-popular Autumn reception afterwards. In case you haven’t yet registered, you can still do so here.

Halfway around the world another key conference in bioscience, BioJapan, is kicking off. The BIA is being represented by our Policy and Projects Manager, Dr Martin Turner, who today is speaking at the NHSA/Medcity symposium in Tokyo. The conference officially begins tomorrow with a drinks reception co-sponsored by the BIA and Medcity, and will run through until Friday. I hope that the entire UK delegation has a fantastic time showcasing UK bioscience and strengthening international connections.

Finally, I’d just like to remind you all that voting for the BIA board elections, closes tomorrow (the 10th) at 5pm. If you haven’t already voted there’s still time, simply read through the candidate profiles, and cast your vote. The results will be announced at the Annual General Meeting, which will take place during the UKBSF on Thursday.



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