On Friday 27 September members of the biotech community had the opportunity to talk directly to Rt Hon Sir Jim Paice, MP for South East Cambridgeshire, at a roundtable discussion organised by the BIA at Cambridge Science Park.
The discussion, followed by a tour of the labs and offices of Arecor, was a curtain raiser to the BIA’s activities for European Biotech Week. Attendees represented more than eleven biotech companies, as well as the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and other stakeholders.
After introductions from Steve Bates (CEO of BIA), host Tom Saylor (CEO of Arecor) and from guests around the table, the first topic up for discussion was the government’s support for innovation. The Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) was discussed at length as a positive example of a government initiative that is directly benefitting UK research and development (R&D) and leveraging significant private investment. As recipients of business-led BMC awards, Eddie Littler from Domainex and Graham Clarke from ImmunoBiology acknowledged that the awards have been highly beneficial for enabling research and as validation of business models.
From his perspective as an angel investor, Andy Richards pointed out that the BMC was successful in part because it had reached the sector in a timely and light-touch fashion, and had even led to more optimistic behaviour at the Board level of some companies. One company which would have relocated to the US had decided to remain in the UK after receiving a BMC award, and Steve Bates confirmed that he had heard similar sentiments at BIA events around the UK.
Attendees also discussed the difficulty that biotech companies encounter in trying to access the UK public markets, particularly in contrast to the situation in the US. However, it was noted that some differences were cultural and that positive examples of UK biotech business models do exist and should be publicised.
In terms of pragmatic actions that the government could explore, Steve Bates and Harren Jhoti, CEO of Astex, suggested that the ability to invest pension funds into innovative sectors should be reviewed. It was also noted by attendees that the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) work well, and that having multiple initiatives such as the Patent Box, R&D tax credits and the proposed Science Industry Partnership (SIP) for skills training all encourage investment into the UK biotech sector. One important point was that the NHS should act as a catalyst for innovation and for that there must be ‘pull-through’, i.e. access to a market and appropriate valuation and reimbursement.
The second topic for discussion was Cambridge’s position as a life science hub. Sir Jim Paice described how, having been MP for South East Cambridgeshire for 26 years, he had witnessed the Cambridge biotech sector growing and changing considerably. Attendees discussed the relative merits of the government investing further into regions with established biotech hubs versus distributing funding throughout the UK. The relocation of AstraZeneca’s corporate headquarters to Cambridge was seen as a positive message of support for UK R&D. Finally, one practical improvement for the global viability of Cambridge would be an increased number of transatlantic flights at Stanstead airport.
Following the lively and engaged roundtable session Sir Jim noted suggestions that could be fed back to government and thanked the attendees for their input, before touring Arecor with CEO Tom Saylor.