Last week the BIA headed to a wet and windy San Francisco for Biotech Showcase. We were joined by members and partner organisations to wave the flag for British biotech on an international stage. Here we take a look at the highlights.
Addressing the threats and opportunities of Brexit
With Trump’s inauguration in less-than a fortnight, Brexit wasn’t top of the agenda at Biotech Showcase. But interest was still high as delegates crowded into the BIA’s panel workshop to hear how the UK bioscience sector is addressing the threats and opportunities of the momentous decision.
BIA’s CEO Steve Bates chaired the session, which featured five Brits, including himself, and one American. In his opening remarks, UK Government Minister Lord Prior said he believes Brexit is a “catalytic event” for British innovation and stressed that the government is working hand-in-hand with industry to make the most of it. He highlighted the recently-announced 20% increase in public funding for research and innovation and the government’s underwriting of EU funding up to 2020. Later in the session he said the government would be announcing further support for research collaboration this year.
MedCity Chairman and CEO of Immunocore Eliot Forster continued the up-beat message, noting that his company has seen an increase in job applications from Europeans despite Brexit. He stressed the need for continued access to global talent, including from the EU, which in his opinion the government understands.
Alison Dennis, a Partner at law firm Fieldfisher, didn’t shy away from highlighting the difficulty of extracting the UK from the EU regulatory regime and said that a transition period would be needed to allow companies time to plan and adjust. However, there is great expertise in the UK’s regulatory agencies, such as NICE and the MHRA, she said. Outside the EU, this could allow the UK to respond much quicker to new technologies than our EU counterparts, meaning a much more innovation-friendly system could be developed.
The London Stock Exchange’s Chris Mayo surprised many in the room by pointing out that UK healthcare IPOs outperformed those in the US in both 2015 and 2016, suggesting that the financing environment is strong. He added that a number of specialist fundraising vehicles have also launched recently making the UK a unique market. This paired with the weak pound could attract foreign investors to the UK scene he said.
The only panellist without a “Downton Abbey accent”, as Steve put it, was AstraZeneca’s Steve Twait. However, he praised the talent of the UK science base and said that his company was continuing with its investment in a new Cambridge HQ and research campus because of the great opportunities for collaboration with academia.
As Steve put it at the beginning of the session, the fundamental strengths of UK life sciences remain unchanged following Brexit. And those fundamentals look to get stronger as the Government focusses on supporting the sector and investing in innovation as part of its life sciences strategy.
BIA members in the spotlight
There was a strong showing from British biotech presenting this year, including 11 BIA members: Abcodia; Abzena; Altimmune; Biosignatures; Cell Medica; hVIVO; Immodulon Therapeutics; Mereo BioPharma; Oxford BioMedica; ReNeuron; and Scancell.
It was great to see the strength of UK science on display. ReNeuron, for example, showcased the UK’s leading position in regenerative medicine with their cell-based therapies for motor disability resulting from stroke and for the blindness-causing disease, retinitis pigmentosa. And Immodulon demonstrated the global interest in UK science in their presentation, which included a project investigating the use of Mycobacterium vaccae to treat post-traumatic stress disorder funded by the US military through DARPA.
Toasting UK bioscience
The highlight of the BIA’s trip to San Francisco was the UK reception, hosted with our partners, to celebrate British bioscience. We were delighted to welcome so many of our members as well as our global colleagues.
The popularity of the event not only showed what a positive and open sector we have in the UK but also the interest in it from the US and international community. Thank you to everyone who attended the evening and made it such an enjoyable and successful event.
The BIA would like to thank our partners for supporting all the above activity in San Francisco: the Department for International Trade, Fieldfisher, London Stock Exchange, London Partners, and MedCity.