CEO Update | 10 May 2021

VTF documentary on Channel 4 tonight

Jabbed! a TV documentary telling the inside story of the UK Vaccines Taskforce is on Channel 4 this evening at 10pm. Tune in to see interviews with familiar faces including Kate Bingham and Ian McCubbin. I hope the documentary puts front and centre the early work done by the BIA COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Taskforce as part of the UK’s great vaccine story.  I would also like to thank Clive Dix for all his hard work on the VTF now that he has stepped down from his role as interim Chair. He shared his thoughts with The Telegraph at the weekend.

Can you help with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing?

To expand the global capacity for vaccine manufacture quickly, experienced GMP operators, laboratory technicians and Quality Assurance personnel are needed in European manufacturing facilities on three-to-six-month secondments/contracts starting ASAP. Accommodation, transport and work permits can be arranged. Please contact Netty England if you would like to hear more.

Vaccines and IP

The announcement by the  Biden administration that it will support a waiver on IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines in WTO talks has given new urgency to the important question of how we ensure global equitable access to vaccines. Last week I highlighted publicly why I considered this move an ineffective way to achieve this. 

Our life sciences industry has been so successful in developing and producing COVID-19 vaccines at scale because of the range of partnerships that have been developed between IP holders and manufacturers to share their knowledge and expertise. I met with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and the Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi on Friday to discuss how governments and industry can step up these collaborative efforts to increase global access.  

Having the research and manufacturing capabilities to fast-track vaccines for potentially harmful COVID-19 variants is key. The announcement of a further government investment of £29.3m in Public Health England’s new testing facilities at Porton Down was very welcome. These new laboratories will be able to test 3,000 blood samples a week – more than four times the current number – for the levels of COVID-19 antibodies to assess the effectiveness of vaccines against variants of concern.

Also vital in our pandemic recovery is having effective therapeutics. Synairgen published Phase II trial results of their inhaled COVID-19 treatment for patients to take at home, showing it can speed recovery and prevent deterioration among COVID-19 patients who are suffering from significant breathlessness. I look forward to seeing the Phase III trial read out later this year.

Investment in the UK sector continues to grow

Great news today from BIA member Abingworth, that it has closed a new fund and is looking to put $582 million into companies with promising new medicines that need to go through clinical trials, backers include British Patient Capital. A quarter of the fund will be directed to UK companies.

BIA member Vaccitech, the company which owns the platform technology behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, raised an impressive $111m through its IPO on Nasdaq, showing once again the confidence investors have in UK biotech. The company’s novel technology could revolutionise the way we treat disease and I’m pleased to see it being used to develop vaccines for diseases like MERS and shingles.

More great investment news came from Exscientia, which closed a $225 million Series D round, which included access to up to an additional $300 million at the company’s discretion. We think it is, in total, the biggest single VC commitment to a UK biotech in history. I’m looking forward to the BIA’s next finance update, which I’m sure will show the sector has continued to build upon the already impressive sums raised in the first quarter of the year.

Also a further example of the life sciences sector going from strength to strength was the announcement by Northern Ireland-based Cumulus Neuroscience of a £6m funding round led by the Dementia Discovery Fund, joined by LifeArc and the UK Future Fund. Cumulus provides real-world clinical trial data and AI-powered insights to accelerate the development of life-changing central nervous system therapies. Congratulations to Cumulus Neuroscience on this and its pioneering work to improve the robustness of neuroscience clinical trials.

High profile support for our sector

Our work to increase the profile of our sector paid off with high-profile coverage of the opportunity in our sector for global investors in The Economist this week.

The Government is also on message. Health Secretary Matt Hancock shared his vision for the UK becoming a life sciences superpower in a keynote speech at the ABPI annual conference. The Health Secretary committed to three key actions to make this vision into a reality: turning ambitions into actions; improving investment opportunities; and driving up skills – all work in which our Association is playing a central part.

Innovative Regulatory milestone for MHRA 

It was great to see the MHRA grant its first authorisation under the Project Orbis scheme since joining in January 2021. This collaboration with regulatory authorities around the world, including the FDA, signals the flexibility enabled by the UK’s departure from the European Union. The license is for AstraZeneca’s Osimertinib (Tagrisso) a post-surgery treatment for lung cancer, offering a novel treatment option for patients in the early stages of the disease, filling a significant unmet need.

New CEO of Innovate UK

Congratulations to Indro Mukerjee who has been appointed the new CEO of Innovate UK. He takes up the role immediately and has been tasked with transitioning Innovate UK from a grant funding body to an agency focused on driving economic growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation, while unleashing private sector investment into research and development. We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with him in this key role.

Big wins for the sector’s youngest members

Finally, I wanted to congratulate two standout Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) apprentices, Nathan Jarvis and Emilia Reyes Pabon, on winning in their respective categories at the Oxon Apprenticeship Awards 2021. Nathan won OXB Higher Apprentice of the Year, and Emilia was crowned Oxford University Advanced Apprentice of the Year. Both are working for BIA member companies, and I’m so pleased to see how well they’ve done. Congratulations also to Oxford Biomedica for reaching the finals for Apprentice Employer of the Year. It’s the best performance ever by the life sciences sector at these awards and it’s great that roles in our sector are getting the profile they deserve.