CEO Update|Monday 17 August
New vaccine candidate deals
Securing access to vaccine candidates whilst strengthening the UK life science sector continued last week as the UK Government inked a new deal to secure a further 90 million COVID vaccine candidate doses. This is the sixth vaccine candidate deal the Government has struck which will, if clinical development is successful, give the UK access to vaccines by Novavax (60 million doses) and Janssen (30 million doses), should they prove safe and effective. Billingham-based Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies is set to produce 60 million doses of Novavax’s vaccine and the UK has agreed to co-fund a clinical trial of the Janssen vaccine which is expected to take place later this year. Novavax will conduct a Phase 3 clinical trial of their vaccine working with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to access their clinical network and expertise. If the vaccines are successful in clinical trials, both could be delivered to the UK in mid-2021.
New Vaccine Taskforce podcast
The Government’s Vaccine Taskforce is sharing its thinking and insight in a new set of podcasts. The first in the series is available from today on Spotify and iTunes and makes essential summer holiday listening. In it, Neil McNeil talks to Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, & Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser, about the aims of the Vaccine Taskforce, how the various types of potential vaccine against COVID-19 work and the likelihood of success. They discuss the latest developments, obstacles they face, the steps being taken to ensure a vaccine is distributed globally and when (if at all) a vaccine might be available.
New Track and Trace app
A trial of a new UK coronavirus app is now underway limited to residents in the Isle of Wight and the London Borough of Newham. The app will allow people to find out if they are at risk of having caught the virus by alerting the user when close contact with an infected person has occurred. The app will also provide local infection data and QR code check-ins at venues.
Imperial College London antibody testing
The first findings were published last week of the Imperial College London REACT (REal Time Assessment of Community Transmission) study using antibody finger-prick tests to monitor progress of the pandemic. It shows that just under 6% (3.4 million) of the UK population had antibodies for COVID-19. This study will help us to understand past cases to inform public health responses and identify those who may be at increased risk.
UK Research and Development Roadmap
We have responded to the Government’s R&D Roadmap, welcoming its focus on raising private sector R&D investment and supporting greater translation of R&D into economic, environmental and social benefits. The Government is planning to double its own investment by 2024, which is a great opportunity for us to increase the impact of Innovate UK and schemes like the Biomedical Catalyst. I made this point to the new CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Dame Ottoline Leyser, when I met her on Thursday in what was a very good first official meeting. She is keen to work with us and as a plant biologist, already understands deeply the value of life sciences. The Government machine is also working at pace to produce proposals for the Spending Review due this autumn and we are engaged with a number of Departments on these plans, which will be crucial for super-charging our sector in the coming years.
Brexit Letter to medicines and medical product suppliers updated
Steve Oldfield’s letter to industry – mentioned last week – which sets out the Department of Health’s approach to the end of the Brexit transition and what is being asked of industry has been updated. The new letter makes clearer the Government’s expected timeframes for border disruption at the Short Straights during the first 3 months following 1 January 2021 when, in the Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario (RWCS), “the most significant disruption is anticipated.” We still await detailed guidance on how the Northern Ireland Protocol and regulation will work for our sector. We will continue to press for a deal between the UK and EU to be done.
Public Health England set to be reorganised
Media reports at the weekend have trailed an expected announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock of a reorganisation of Public Health England (PHE), with its pandemic response function set to be merged with NHS Test & Trace into a new body called the National Institute for Health Protection. While we await the detail of any announcement, if England is considering a rapid reorganisation of its public sector institutions to be better prepared for pandemic in future it’s imperative to consider at the same time the long-term incentives and capacity within the UK life sciences industry, which complement the work of public health agencies. At the core of the UK’s innovative response to COVID-19 are companies with specific capabilities, like Oxford Biomedica on rapid vaccine manufacturing scale up, Oxford Nanopore on next generation diagnostics and IQVIA on population-based testing.
The deep scientific capability within PHE, for instance at Porton Down, and within the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) as part of the MHRA, has been central to an effective ecosystem response and has worked rapidly and effectively with private sector partners this year. Germany (cited in the media as a potential model for Britain to follow) has the Robert Koch Institute, but it also has a differently organised diagnostics industry built over decades. For the U.K. to be one of the best-equipped nations to respond to this and future pandemics, the Government needs to consider strategic industrial and investment questions alongside any reorganisation within the public sector.
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.