Key themes from BIO 2019

Earlier this month, over 17,000 people from the global biotech community gathered in Philadelphia for the annual BIO International Convention. As always, the UK delegation was out in force to celebrate the global impact of our life sciences cluster. The BIA team – our CEO Steve Bates, Brexit lead Laura Collister and I – had a couple of busy days full of meetings, panel sessions, and networking receptions. At such a massive conference, it is impossible to cover everything – but here are some of my highlights and themes.


Throughout the conference, the BIA team championed UK biotech by highlighting the strength of the sector. 2018 was a record-breaking year for the financing of biotech, where companies raised £2.2bn from private investors. Recently published BIA data shows that the sector continues to well in the first half of 2019. And a new BIA report, Life sciences: Catalysing investment and growth, celebrates the great work SMEs do all over the country.


The UK stand in the bustling exhibition hall was busy with delegates keen to talk to British companies and representatives. And on the Tuesday evening, we were delighted to co-sponsor a lively and popular UK reception together with AstraZeneca, the Department of International Trade, the Welsh Government, Invest Northern Ireland and the British American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia. We held the reception at the Museum of the American Revolution – so whilst President Trump was visiting the Queen in the UK, we certainly “took back control” in Philly for the evening! The UK’s newest collaboration between academia, local government and life science organisations – Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland (HIRANI) – was also unveiled at the reception.


BIA CEO Steve Bates welcomes guests to the UK reception at the Museum of the American Revolution.


International delegates were interested to hear the latest news on the UK’s departure from the EU. Steve spoke at two Brexit-themed events – one private EMA roundtable with Guido Rasi and one panel session organised by the Belgian biotech association. At both events, Steve made the case for the value on all sides of regulatory cooperation and highlighted that investors have been maintaining their confidence in the UK biotech sector despite the political uncertainty.


However, political headwinds for the US sector were front and centre of the conference. Jim Greenwood, President and CEO of BIO, did not hold back on the challenges the Trump administration poses to the sector. In a keynote session, he said that while the science has never been more promising, the threats from Washington have never been more serious. This includes Trump’s policies on drug pricing, where he is arguing that other countries are free riding on the high prices for medicines that Americans pay, and trade, where the US is blocking new judges to the highest court in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the US-China trade war continues.  



The rise of China as a biotech superpower was another key theme of the conference. A new study on emerging global trends by BIO showed that China accounted for 47% of venture funding for non-US therapeutic companies in 2018, which had increased from 1% in 2009. The BIA team attended a special China track at the conference to make new acquaintances and strengthen existing connections. The BIA is focused on building relations with the Chinese industry and has a China Biotech Special Interest Group and, we have recently organised a UK trade mission to China and Hong Kong


We are also working internationally with other biotech associations from all over the world through the International Council of Biotechnology Associations (ICBA). ICBA met the day before the official start of the conference to discuss how we can work together to enable biotech companies all over the world to start, grow and develop their technologies for the good of humanity. Steve and the BIA have taken over the ICBA chair from Andrew Casey of BIOTECananda and we look forward to shape the global biotech agenda during Steve’s two-year term.  


The annual BIO Conventions are key part of our international engagement and we look forward to seeing friends from all the over at San Diego next year.




Eric Johnsson

Policy and Public Affairs Executive


Eric joined the BIA in March 2017. Previously he worked for the NHS in patient confidentiality and data protection. As a student, in Australia and Scotland, he held part-time positions in legal and parliamentary research.

Originally from Sweden, Eric holds a 1st Class Masters degree in International Economic Law from the University of Edinburgh and a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and International Relations from Murdoch University in Australia.

In his spare time, Eric enjoys the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and travelling to warm and sunny locations.