2014 was an outstanding year for the global biotech industry. Capital fundraising records were broken in the US and Europe, resulting in the highest ever total of £33bn. Furthermore, the UK was responsible for a substantial portion of the year’s success, a fact that was highlighted at BIA’s recent UK Bioscience Forum.
The AMRC’s Sam Clark attended the event, and here he recaps some of the big issues covered…
Building the third global cluster
The day opened with the launch of the BIA/EY report entitled ‘Building the Third Cluster: State of the Nation 2015’. The report demonstrated that in 2014 the UK outpaced its EU neighbours in the Biotech industry. In this year alone the UK generated £1.2bn of biotech innovation capital. This figure represents a 143% increase on 2013, and means that the UK now raises almost a third (31%) of innovation capital generated across Europe. 2014 was such a prolific year for the UK biotech industry that it is now almost on a par with the top global biotech clusters, namely those in San Diego, San Francisco and New England. What is required for the UK to surpass the San Diego cluster, and become the world’s third largest biocluster? The discussion focused on the need to support and retain mid-sized companies, so that they can enter the public market in greater numbers.
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP was keen to highlight future challenges to development in his keynote address, as well as sing the praises of 2014. Among the challenges he mentioned were the current structural deficit, the demands on public funding that will come from an ageing population, making sure that projects such as 100,000 Genomes will deliver a lasting legacy, and ensuring that we can manage the availability of data to the benefit of all.
The first plenary session ended with a panel discussion on how to build a strategic alliance to ensure that the UK becomes the 3rd global biocluster. The panel included Steve Harris, of Circassia Biopharmaceuticals, and Angus McQuilken, VP at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Centre (MLSC). Mr McQuilken gave a brief overview of the MLSC, which acts as a hub linking different parts of the state’s pre-existing infrastructure to improve the innovation ecosystem. When asked how the UK could emulate the success of the MLSC, Mr McQuilken suggested that if you invest in building a strong basis for partnerships, industry and further investment will follow.
Focusing on patient benefit
The meeting then broke into a series of parallel sessions which covered topics such as Big Data in public health, current events related to intellectual property, and assuring quality in diagnostic tests. AMRC’s Aisling Burnand hosted a breakout session entitled ‘10x more focused on patient benefit’, which explored collaborations between charities and industry, and how these partnerships can bring benefits to patients.
The panel for this session was composed of representatives from AMRC members who have managed successful partnerships with industry. Doug Brown from Alzheimer’s Society and Mike Johnson of MRC Technology discussed the Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Programme, a collaboration which brings together a number of charities and medical research funders to assist neurodegenerative medicine research projects which have either stalled or been shelved. Anna Obolensky discussed the BHF’s new and innovative award system for translational research, and Ralph Holme was on hand to discuss the Translational Research Initiative in Hearing created by Action for Hearing Loss.
Key points within this session included the increasing public scrutiny that charities are under, how collaborations with industry can accelerate translational efforts, and how such collaborations can result in novel treatments which provide patient benefit.
Celebrating success and the technology of 2016
The concluding plenary session set out to look at the successes of various companies and what innovations are most likely to turn heads in 2016. The session began with a panel discussion in which various winners of Biomedical Catalyst funding discussed the difference securing the funding has made to their projects and businesses.
The day closed with a look at the future. Small, handheld genome sequencing kits which could be used at home were among the developments that the panel suggested would emerge in 2016. Machine learning and big data also took up a good portion of the discussion, highlighted for uses in both diagnosis and drug discovery.
In all, the day demonstrated that if the UK biotech industry is to build on the successes of 2014, we must ensure that communication and collaboration between funders, researchers and industry continue to grow, and that new biotech companies are supported as they are created, develop and mature.