CEO Update|Monday 27 April
We ask that you forward this communication to colleagues and relevant stakeholders, so that they can be aware of the important work which the UK life sciences sector is doing to support the national and international efforts in tackling COVID-19. If you would like to receive these CEO updates directly to your inbox please contact us and we will add you to our mailing list.
COVID-19 Vaccine trials start in the UK, testing scales up and knowledge economy support package valued by members.
UK clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine started last Thursday, as two volunteers were injected with a vaccine developed by the team at Oxford University led by Professor Sarah Gilbert. This Phase I clinical trial will see the candidate, an adenovirus vaccine vector, injected into hundreds of volunteers to evaluate the drug’s safety and toxicity. The BIA’s vaccine manufacturing taskforce has been supporting the work of the Oxford group and the Imperial College team led by Professor Robin Shattock, which is working on an mRNA vaccine.
Building work has been brought forward on the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) which hopes to come online in Harwell in 2021. This will support the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and other future vaccines. VMIC will work alongside the UK’s most innovative companies and research labs and I look forward to seeing the development come to life next year.
Last week also saw new initiatives to scale up UK testing, including a new study which will see 20,000 households in England completing a population survey. Participants will receive swab tests, with some adults also undergoing antibody testing. The study has been launched by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Oxford University, UK Biocentre, and BIA member, IQVIA. During Thursday’s government coronavirus briefing, Matt Hancock announced the expansion of antigen testing eligibility, which now covers all essential workers. On Friday DHSC unveiled a new website which allows essential workers, including those working in our sector and members of their households to book tests online. As you will have seen from the weekend news this expanded service proved very busy over the weekend.
The Government has set the end of this week as its milestone to hit 100,000 tests a day, which will undoubtedly attract media coverage. However, for me what is more important is how the UK intends to use (in the mid and long term) the testing capacity it has built in response to the emergency. It’s clear that testing will be a core part of any stepdown from lockdown. We now need clarity on how the capability built will be used to support more returns to work as we enter a phase where we live with the virus as a society.
The Government webinar last week provided something of a window on the emerging thinking and I hope we can see more in the coming days that will enable our industry to assist. What is also clear is that more innovation and scale look set to be needed. Talk in the media of a major breakthrough in antibody testing by the Oxford consortium over the weekend also seems somewhat overcooked at present, given the interview on the Today programme this morning (skip to around 2:22:00 for the interview with BBI solutions).
More details about the technicalities and prospects of an NHS contact-tracing app which is currently being trialled at an RAF base in Yorkshire are entering the public domain. The technology relies on Bluetooth signals to log when smartphone users come into contact with each other. It is hoped that if someone develops COVID-19 symptoms, those with whom they have come into contact will be sent an alert through the app. Bringing the development of the app together with those developing the testing strategy will be vital and we are asking government to do this.
Research into COVID-19
The BIA took part last week in meetings with DHSC and NIHR officials who gave an update on research in the NHS. The DHSC has received more than 500 applications so far, and only 31 ‘Urgent Public Health’ studies have been prioritised to gather clinical and epidemiological evidence that will inform national policy and enable new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines to be developed and tested for COVID-19. The list of nationally prioritised COVID-19 studies, which can be found here, include three key national platform clinical trials: the PRINCIPLE trial in primary care – 187 sites open with active recruitment; the RECOVERY trial in hospitals, the largest trial with multiple arms at global level – 6500 patients recruited; and the REMAP-CAP trial – 100 sites open with active recruitment. A Government Therapeutics Taskforce is forming (TherapeuticsTaskforce@dhsc.gov.uk) and more details will be announced soon.
Whilst COVID-19 research is vital, I have also pressed the case with Ministers and officials today on the need to restart clinical trials in other conditions as soon as possible, for the benefit of patients and the research ecosystem including charities and the NHS, since patients not getting treatments for other conditions stand to produce a deleterious effect in outcomes over the coming weeks and months.
Good news in the sector
It’s encouraging to see that despite the current business uncertainty, there was a good investment story from SwanBio, a key player in gene therapy, which has expanded its series A round to $77m to scale up manufacturing of a CNS gene therapy. SwanBio added $52m in series A financing, with $51m from Syncona. Congratulations to all involved.
Government support for our sector
It was great to learn from last week’s BIA webinar that many members are keen to investigate the new ‘Future Fund’ convertible loan scheme, via the British Business Bank, announced by the Government two weeks ago. Nooman Haque of Silicon Valley Bank and our own Martin Turner went through the known details at our webinar last Thursday and you can watch it on our YouTube channel here.
We’re expecting further details of Innovate UK’s COVID-19 business support package to be announced later this week. £200m will be provided upfront to existing recipients of active grants to help with cash-flow, while there will be £450m for companies that have ever received a grant and a further £100m in innovation loans for activity closer to market. Companies that have never accessed Innovate UK funding will be eligible for grants of up to £175k. We will bring you all the details when they are announced.
This week, I am looking forward to another BIA COVID-19 webinar, in which the focus will be on the impact on commercial research and clinical trials, with speakers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and IQVIA. Please sign up here. The next government/trade associations webinar will take place on Thursday, more details announced soon.
Free partnering conference on COVID-19
Don’t forget to sign up for the virtual partnering event run by Evaluate, Inova, and Lyonbiopole. The free COVID-19 Virtual Partnering will bring together key leaders and decision makers in the global pharma industry, to connect and help bring forward solutions. This includes the development, trials, and manufacture of patient solutions such as diagnostics, drug treatments and ultimately a COVID-19 vaccine. The one-on-one virtual meetings will take place over the course of three days, from 4 to 6 May. Find out more 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.