CEO Update|Monday 18 May
UK vaccine taskforce builds vaccine manufacturing capability in the UK, more details on government support for life science businesses and the approval of a coronavirus antibody test, as the UK begins exit from lockdown
Over the weekend there has been a slew of government announcements focussing on the UK’s journey to develop and manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19. It’s fantastic to see that Kate Bingham, a leading figure in our industry and ex BIA Board, has been appointed as chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce. The taskforce announced last month will assess the UK’s existing vaccine manufacturing capability and will work closely with the BIA’s industry taskforce to ensure any successful vaccine candidate can be manufactured at scale. Following this, it was encouraging to see government announce a £84m boost of funding for vaccine manufacturing, £65.5m to Oxford’s candidate and £18.5m to Imperial’s candidate. This follows the new global licensing agreement between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which will see AstraZeneca make up to 30m doses by September.
The Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) has been awarded up to £131m by government, £93m to fast track the build, allowing the centre to open next summer a year ahead of schedule, and a further £38m to create a ‘virtual VMIC’, composed of BIA member companies with facilities across the UK, ready to make a vaccine should one become available.
At the same time, the Prime Minister rightly tempered public expectation on the vaccine development timeline in his article for the Mail on Sunday, in which he pointed out that, despite throwing everything we can at finding a vaccine there remains a very long way to go and there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. As he cautioned in the article, “Despite these efforts, we have to acknowledge we may need to live with this virus for some time to come.”
Business support details released
On Friday, Innovate UK published details of their coronavirus business innovation support package. In addition, the British Business Bank has released further details on the Future Fund today. It will be possible to apply from this Wednesday, details on eligibility and how to complete the process are here. We aim to cover these support packages in more detail during our webinar this week, keep an eye on our events page for more details.
Test, track, trace
In testing, the headline of the week came from Roche, whose coronavirus antibody test has gained approval from Public Health England. The test, with a specificity of 100% is a major step forward. Sir John Bell explained the development on the Today programme last Thursday.
A new large-scale study which involves up to 20,000 people has been launched to track the spread of coronavirus in the general population by measuring blood antibodies. The research led by UK Biobank forms part of Pillar 4 of the Government’s COVID-19 testing strategy to conduct UK-wide surveillance testing to learn more about the spread of the virus.
Last week I noted that the Government has appointed Dido Harding to lead the test, track and trace programme. We have since heard that other key players have been brought in, including Sarah-Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council. These new appointments signal government recognition of the importance of local and regional delivery of test, track, and trace.
The government/industry webinar will be back this week and looks set to provide details of government’s therapeutic taskforce – the webinar is set for Thursday at 9am and will include Mark Walport and Jonathan Van-Tam.
The European Commission granted €117 million to eight large-scale coronavirus research projects through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). It was heartening to see that five of the eight projects have UK involvement and two are led by UK organisations. Coronavirus research shows the clear benefit to all of continued close co-operation between life sciences innovators in the UK and EU.
New genomics study
Key players in the UK’s genomics field have partnered to help scientists understand whether a person’s genetics may influence susceptibility to COVID-19. The partnership between Genomics England, GenOMICC consortium, Illumina, and the NHS is facilitating a study led by Edinburgh University which will sequence the genomes of 35,000 people with coronavirus. That’s 20,000 patients currently or previously in intensive care with coronavirus, as well as 15,000 who have experienced mild to moderate symptoms. This is a fascinating piece of scientific research based on the platforms we have within our ecosystem which will support the search for treatments.
COVID-19 recovery strategy
We are seeing small steps being made towards a partial reopening of the economy. Following the live broadcast by the Prime Minister last weekend, the Government published a 50 page COVID-19 recovery strategy, which included a key role for the life sciences industry. Three main points for us, first being the drive to “ensure the UK’s supply chains are resilient, ensuring the UK has sufficient access to the essential medicines, PPE, testing equipment vaccines and treatments”, secondly the mention of the Vaccines and Treatments Taskforce, and thirdly investment in the UK’s manufacturing capability – something that the BIA has been heavily involved with through our industry taskforce.
Also released last week, government guidance on working safely in labs and research facilities. The guidance is non-statutory: it does not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment, or equalities. We are aware that our members have been managing effectively under the current situation, our sector is well placed to continue working efficiently.
NIHR Restart Framework – restarting non-COVID-19 clinical trials
Following on from our response to the NIHR consultation on their proposed ‘Restart Framework’ at the beginning of May, the BIA has continued its engagement with the DHSC and NIHR and contributed to the discussions about the framework for restarting NIHR research activities which have been paused due to COVID-19, an issue of great concern to our members and the life sciences industry. More details will follow when the framework is issued.
Some helpful announcements from government this week, including a four-month extension to the furlough scheme, with workers continuing to receive 80% of salary and the new self-employed support scheme, which is now open for applications. However, many people are questioning the announcement of a 14-day quarantine on travellers arriving in the UK from overseas. Exemptions are needed, for example to maintain operations which depend on specialist engineers to service production lines, a particular concern for our sector.
In international news, I’m delighted to welcome Michelle McMurry-Heath as the new President and CEO of BIO in the USA. Michelle starts next month and succeeds Jim Greenwood. We look forward to working with her in her new role.
I hope to see you on a webinar this week.
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.