CEO Update|Monday 20 July
Big steps forward in the development of vaccines against COVID-19 for the UK today that the BIA and its members have been working towards for months. In a series of announcements the Government has unveiled a number of deals to secure access to 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidates. To facilitate the development of candidates, a new NHS registry has been set up to help make recruitment into clinical trials run smoothly.
I’ve had the privilege to represent the BIA on the UK Vaccines Taskforce over the past three months and I know just how much the insight and expertise of our members is valued by this fast paced and dynamic group at the heart of the UK effort against COVID-19.
The 90 million total is made up of 30 million doses from BioNTech and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine (making Britain the first country to secure this candidate), and 60 million from Valneva, who will be manufacturing their inactivated virus vaccine candidate in Scotland. In addition, treatments containing COVID-19-neutralising antibodies have been secured from AstraZeneca to protect those who cannot receive vaccines.
Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce, gave a great overview of why it is important to have a range of options when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine on the Today programme this morning. She noted the importance of recognising that it is unlikely that a single vaccine will work for everyone.
Earlier this year, the UK secured a deal with AstraZeneca to supply 100 million doses of the ChAdOx Oxford vaccine, whose UK supply chain was established via the BIA taskforce this spring. Today the initial result from its clinical trial have been published in The Lancet. The headline result is that the vaccine is safe and induces an immune reaction, with volunteers presenting both antibodies and white blood cells that can fight COVID-19.
Even more positive clinical trial news came from Synairgen, a Southampton-based biotech using a protein called interferon beta to treat patients with COVID-19. Their preliminary results suggest the treatment cut the odds of a COVID-19 patient in hospital developing severe disease by 79%.
As these vaccine candidates and treatments progress through clinical trials, it is important that recruiting volunteers onto trials happens quickly. To support this, a new NHS service has been launched to help people across the UK get information about and sign up for new COVID-19 vaccine trials. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is working with the NHS to recruit over half a million people onto the registry, which will allow people to be put in touch with vaccine trials in the coming months. Researchers are looking for people from all backgrounds, ages and parts of the UK, including both people with or without existing health conditions, to take part in vaccine studies, to make sure that any vaccines developed will work for everyone.
Great to see BIA member Sosei Heptares successfully raise $200 million after completion of an international offering of new shares and convertible bonds. Sosei, which is headquartered in Tokyo and has R&D facilities in Cambridge, is developing a pipeline of partnered and in-house drug candidates in multiple therapeutic areas including neurology, immuno-oncology and inflammatory diseases.
Thank you to the BIA industry-led COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing taskforce
Way back in February, the BIA launched a manufacturing capability audit of its membership to understand the UK’s capability to manufacture any COVID-19 vaccine and antibody candidates. At the same time, the BIA networked experts from across industry to enable the UK to be in a position rapidly scale and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine and/or therapeutic.
Through the excellent chairmanship of Ian McCubbin, this group has worked day and night to support the Jenner Institute’s ChAdOx vaccine (now AZD1222), Imperial’s saRNA vaccine and other candidates. In real time we have been feeding directly into Sir Patrick Vallance and Kate Bingham’s UK Vaccines Taskforce (as it was established), providing solutions and ideas to help government in vaccine planning efforts.
We have been aware for some time that as these projects moved from advice to several multi-million-pound contracts, there would be a natural stepping off point for us as a Trade Association as the point of delivery co-ordination. That moment has now arrived and on Thursday we handed over the delivery baton to the UK Government’s Vaccines Taskforce.
The experts and capacity organised via our initial taskforce will now deliver their vaccines work directly to the Government. The BIA will retain a strategic advisory function ready to help, but not responsible for overseeing the programme management of what has become a series of key UK State deliverables.
I wanted to put on record my enormous gratitude for the time and effort given by each and every member of the taskforce who have demonstrated the collaborative and solutions-focussed nature of the UK life sciences sector, particularly in bioprocessing and manufacturing. Your speed and collaborative endeavour is a key reason why the Government is able to make the very positive announcements it has today. I look forward to discussing more of this taskforce’s fantastic story at our bioProcessUK conference.
The latest government/industry webinar is taking place this Thursday, details are to be confirmed so keep an eye on our twitter feed for registration details.
Don’t forget we are hosting a joint webinar with BioCentury this Thursday to discuss the findings from a recent BioCentury/BIA survey of UK biotechs, and looking at the outlook for company building in a COVID-19 world. Register here.
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.