CEO Update|Monday 04 May
New collaborations spark hope in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, industry helps the UK reach the 100k tests a day target, and UK exit strategy soon to be unveiled.
Global leaders have come together today to pledge financial support to make and deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the world. Here in the UK, government, the third sector (in the form of Wellcome) and the life sciences industry are all playing our part.
This week our manufacturing taskforce presents plans on how to manufacture 40 million doses of vaccine here in the UK at optimal speed. The group, which is made up of innovative UK life sciences companies, aims to accelerate UK manufacturing capacity and capability to produce millions of doses of a successful vaccine. It is vital that we are able to work at speed on whatever emerges as the most viable vaccine or therapeutic candidate. I’d like to pay tribute to the amazing work of the taskforce, chaired by Ian McCubbin, which includes Pall, Fujifilm, Cobra Biologics, Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), Oxford Biomedica, CPI and UCL in recent weeks to develop and rapidly scale up such a vaccine.
Last week we saw AstraZeneca announce a partnership with the University of Oxford to support research, manufacture and distribution of the Jenner’s promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which has recently shown positive results in animal trials. AstraZeneca’s experience adds valuable industrial heft to this vital development programme. Oxford University and BIA member, Vaccitech which own the rights to the platform technology used in the vaccine’s development will not take any royalties during the pandemic. The BIA’s industry-led taskforce looks forward to working with AstraZeneca in the weeks ahead.
The Oxford team is not the only group reporting promising signs from clinical trials, BIA member Gilead reported emergency approval for the COVID-19 candidate Remdesivir in the USA which appears to cut down the duration of symptoms of COVID-19.
More details have emerged of a new government initiative, the Accelerating COVID-19 Research & Development platform (ACCORD), which aims to fast-track COVID-19 treatments. At last week’s BIA webinar Angela McFarlane from IQVIA explained IQVIA’s role in the programme. They, along with NIHR have brought together a single UK-wide clinical trial platform, to rapidly test potential drugs which are then fed into large-scale studies such as the RECOVERY trial. I also applaud the ongoing research into the biology of COVID-19; last week the Medicines Discovery Catapult, Retrogenix, and Peak Proteins announced a collaboration to identify target receptors for COVID-19 to advance understanding of the cellular mechanisms of infection.
Update on testing
On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that we had met the target of 100,000 tests a day which he set out in his five-pillar plan at the start of March. As the Secretary of State noted in his live thank-you address, the ambitious target could not have been met without the input of our life sciences ecosystem, which includes both industry and academia. Companies large and small have played a huge role in the national effort whether through building new testing labs, sharing kit, people and materials, or by contributing to crowd sourcing new testing methods. We saw huge efforts from BIA members such as Thermo Fisher, Medicines Discovery Catapult, GSK, AstraZeneca, The Crick, and the University of Cambridge. This way of working needs to become the new normal, because much more testing at pace and scale across the UK will be needed in the coming months.
The need for innovation in this area continues. The Testing Methods Sourcing Platform has issued new challenges with which it needs help. This #TestingMethods2020 is a partnership between DHSC, the BIA, BIVDA and the Royal College of Pathologists. There are significant developments in UK population-based testing, to discover how many people have had the virus.
Professor Ara Darzi is at the centre of this Imperial-led effort as 100,000 people across the UK are taking part in a study that involves being tested for COVID-19 to decide whether transmission levels are low enough for lockdown to be eased. We hope the Government will be able to share more on their thinking in a webinar on this which is taking place on Thursday. More details can be found on our website here.
Guidance on managing clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic
Following on from the MHRA guidance on Managing clinical trials during coronavirus (COVID-19), the EU has issued revised guidance to ensure that clinical trials can continue taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The joint European Commission, European Medicines Agency and Heads of Medicines Agencies guidance provides a harmonised set of recommendations on flexible measures (for exclusive use during the pandemic) that sponsors can take to mitigate disruption of clinical research in Europe without compromising data quality and safety of trial participants. This includes the distribution of medicines to trial participants and the remote verification of source data, taking into account social distancing rules and resource limitations in hospitals.
Today a new coronavirus Bounce Back Loan is open for applications. This will help small and medium-sized businesses borrow between £2,000 and £50,000. If this is helpful to your business, you can apply here. Our next COVID-19 webinar (which will be at the usual time, Thursday 11am) will take another look at the financial issues surrounding the current situation. Members are already working up strategies for application to the British Business Bank scheme and we hope to learn more from Innovate UK about their scheme in the coming days. We will go into more detail on support available and explore what the financial situation may look like post-lockdown. Sign up here.
We have now opened up applications for our Charity of the Year 2020/2021. The BIA works with one chosen UK charity each year: connecting them with the influential thought leaders within our strong ecosystem of corporate businesses, networks, academia, and associates. This year’s charity is Versus Arthritis. You can apply on our website here.
As a reminder, The Royal Society Short Industry Fellowship Scheme closes later this month. The Society is encouraging applications involving small and/or early stage companies provided they have a well-established research team and facilities. Find out more here.
Finally, I’d just like to note that the CEPI Sustainable Manufacturing team has recently launched the second Expression of Interest for COVID-19 vaccine drug substance assessment, they are asking for vaccine manufacturers with the capability, capacity, and willingness to support their efforts and to fill in a survey. Please participate using this link, the password is COVID-19.
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.