CEO Update|Monday 03 February 2020

The UK officially left the E U last Friday. Today we saw greater clarity from both sides on how they plan to approach the upcoming negotiations about the future relationship. This morning’s speech by Boris Johnson, the Written Ministerial Statement and the new European Commission document authorising the opening of negotiations for a new partnership with the UK, together give an idea of where we might be headed and some of the obstacles to reaching agreement.

Our industry’s preferred outcome of close regulatory cooperation is still to be played for, but we should not underestimate the challenge ahead. Getting any deal done will require significant movement and will need to be done at speed.  If negotiations don’t, as expected, begin in earnest until next month there will only be 12 weeks before a decision on whether to extend the process will need to be taken. If they continue into the second half of the year it is hard to see anything other than preparations for an un-negotiated outcome being rapidly planned for, with all its disruption to supply. 

The BIA will continue to provide guidance for biotech businesses and the life sciences sector. I have written a longer blog which includes details of the red lines on both sides and my thoughts on the Northern Ireland protocol which you can find here.  Last Thursday we held our latest Brexit briefing webinar and were joined by Dr Anusha Panjwani from the Office for Life Sciences, to discuss the practicalities of what’s changed for the transition period and the future trade negotiations. You can watch the webinar here. I’d welcome members’ reactions to this next stage of the negotiations and how the new rhetoric is affecting business planning and thinking – do drop me a line

You’ll be aware of the continued international efforts to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared as a global health emergency. The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced a £20m fund to boost efforts to find a vaccine and the money will support the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) to advance three new programmes. The Health Secretary’s statement recognises the strength and expertise of our sector, he said “The UK is a hub of world-leading and pioneering research, and it is vital that we lead the way in developing new vaccines to target global threats with scientists from across the world.”  I am aware that a number of BIA member companies are working on treatments and with support from the brightest minds from across the globe, I’m sure that UK scientists will be at the forefront of finding a vaccine.  If there are member companies interested in knowing more of how they could help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and we will link you into the international networks working on this as well as contacts we have developed in China.

An important report was released last week by the Science Industry Partnership, in collaboration with the BIA and ABPI and supported by the Office for Life Sciences. The Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy, which sets out the skills required by the UK Life Sciences sector in order to remain a world renowned and globally competitive industry.

As the industry grows, and novel therapies progress through to clinical delivery, more new job opportunities and specialist skills will be required. It was inspiring to hear directly from apprentices at the report launch in the House of Commons, they spoke powerfully  and were fantastic ambassadors for our sector. During my speech I made clear that biotech is a growing industry with amazing job opportunities and if you are a proven engineer and fancy a career change, come over to biotech!

I was thrilled to speak at the opening of Takeda’s Paddington office alongside the Japanese Ambassador, H.E. Yasumasa Nagamine, rare-disease patient  and changemaker, Karen Owen and Takeda’s MD UK & Ireland, Jon Neal. On display at the event was the fantastic original artwork which is part of the  #IAmNumber17 campaign, initiated and funded by Takeda, which helps the voices of people with rare diseases to be heard. The campaign highlights the fact that one in 17 people in the UK will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life . You can find out more here.

It’s good to see that the Church of England is supportive of the cutting-edge science in our sector. I thought the Bishop of Carlisle’s intervention in a highly informative Lord’s debate on genome editing last week was especially valuable:  “the benefits for personalised, precision human healthcare in particular could be enormous. The Church of England is supportive of what is going on, especially in the UK, which is leading the way.” As one of only three states in the world (the others being Iran and the Vatican) which officially have clerics voting in their lawmaking structure, such an intervention and the sentiment expressed might be surprising to non-UK readers, but is, I believe, an indication of continued societal support for our sector.    

Ahead of the upcoming Budget on 11 March we are writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to highlight key policies which the Government should implement to enable our sector to thrive. We are again calling on government to rapidly refund and deploy the Biomedical Catalyst to maintain the pipeline of bioscience innovation. A recent report provided evidence of the Catalyst’s impact, showing that the R&D funding programme generates £4.72 in public and business value for every £1 invested by government. As the Government is looking to new R&D funding, we believe that sector-specific funding – like the Biomedical Catalyst – must be at the heart of these new plans.

We hope that the Budget will confirm the  previous announcement, during the General Election campaign,  of a £200m life sciences scale-up fund, and we call for it to be more ambitious to ensure the British Business Bank can effectively address the scale-up challenge. Last week we spoke with Research Professional about our Budget submission, which you can read about here.

Sticking with science funding, we have recently updated our interim report Life Sciences: catalysing investment and growth. The report highlights the strength of the UK life sciences sector and makes the case for increased government support. The update is the first stage of our preparations for the 2020 Spending Review, which will determine the Government’s fiscal priorities for the next few years. We will be contacting you shortly to hear your views.

A great opportunity - members of the Vax-Hub Users Group are invited to submit proposals for Interaction Vouchers for projects of up to six months' duration with a value of up to £10,000. The deadline is 14 February and more information can be found here.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new Select Committee chairs: Jeremy Hunt, (Health and Social Care), Greg Clark (Science and Technology), Mel Stride (Treasury) and Rachel Reeves (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). We look forward to working with them to find ways of supporting the innovative UK biotech sector for the good of patients and the economy.

Steve Bates

Chief Executive Officer


Steve Bates has been the CEO of the UK Bioindustry Association since 2012. He currently chairs the International Council of Biotech Associations and has been a Board member of Europabio since 2015. Steve is the visible face of the vibrant UK life sciences industry to government and media. He sits on the UK’s Life Sciences Council and Life Sciences Industrial Strategy Implementation Board. Steve has championed with government effective industrial incentives like the Biomedical Cataylst which have crowded-in private sector investment into UK SMES. He has forged links for the sector across the USA, Europe and in China. In his time at the BIA Steve has developed new member groups focused on cell and gene therapy, genomics and engineered biology. A strong advocate of partnership working, Steve champions sector collaboration with research charities and academia. Proud to lead an organisation with a diverse Board with over 40% female representation, Steve is committed to next generation talent and developing the skills needed for the sector to flourish. Before the BIA, Steve worked for Genzyme and as an advisor to the UK Government of Tony Blair. He was made OBE for services to innovation in 2017.