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The BIA held a breakfast roundtable discussion to examine French and UK life sciences  in the House of Commons on Wednesday 17 April which was kindly hosted by George Freeman MP, the Government Adviser on Life Sciences. What policies work (or don’t) and what experiences can we usefully share was the order of the day.

We were very fortunate to have been supported and joined by colleagues from Sanofi – with experience of operating in both countries –who were able through their excellent contacts to bring  Jean-Jacques Yarmoff, Director of International Partnerships at Oseo (roughly the equivalent of the Technology Strategy Board and the Business Bank in France) to London to speak.

There were 30 experts around the table to discuss the issues including chief executives of bioscience companies, investors, finance professionals and policymakers leading to a fascinating discussion around industrial strategy, funding schemes for innovative companies and a good chance to compare and contrast the different policies in the UK and France.

George Freeman MP, who is a key figure behind the launch and continued implementation of the Strategy for UK Life Sciences, outlined where we were up to and the challenges and opportunities presented by any industrial strategy. It is clear that there is interest in what the UK government is doing for life sciences across the channel.

Jean-Jacques was able to outline some of the key policies used in France to support innovative companies. This includes the successful FCPI scheme on which the BIA has modeled our Citizens’ Innovation Funds (CIFs) proposal. He explained that at every stage of development the French government have a range of tools to support company growth whether through the tax regime or direct guarantee based schemes.

Iain Wilcock, a partner at the French Venture Capital firm Seventure which runs FCPI funds, was also able to provide his insights to the attendees on the shape of the scheme, how it operates and some of his observations from operating in the thick of life science investment.

I was also delighted that Iain Wright MP, the Shadow Business Minister with responsibility for innovation, was able to attend the discussion and share his enthusiasm for the sector and the exciting innovation underway in the UK.

I drew a few lessons from the conversations:

  • It remains important to look beyond borders for what others are doing on a global basis. Often the challenges we face are shared and the solutions can be also. Bioscience is already a very global sector but the policy development can be too.
  • There remains cross-party support in the UK for the life sciences sector in the UK.
  • There are subtle, yet very important, differences about the way government support can be structured which has a big impact on their performance. There were some interesting comparisons made between the FCPI regime and UK VCTs and the ability of the former regime to better create syndicates and attract inward co-investment.
  • The French have done a good job in linking the different aspects of government support together – whether its innovation grant funding, tax credit support or public bank investment. The UK could usefully learn some lessons here.
  • Technology transfer, how to best achieve it and what the policy objectives should be, remains an issue of hot debate across both sides of the channel.

Overall a very useful discussion which gave the BIA lots of food for thought and further policy areas to pursue with members in the coming months.