Archives for the month of: January, 2015

Sir William Castell, Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, was awarded the BioIndustry Association (BIA) Lifetime Achievement Award at last night’s annual Gala Dinner.

Presenting the award, Edward Hodgkin, BIA Chairman, highlighted Sir William’s legacy of achievements – including introducing Retrovir, the first anti-retroviral agent against HIV, to the market; to his tenures at GE Healthcare and Amersham plc; to the great work he does today as Chair of the Wellcome Trust.

Watch his acceptance speech below.

You can read more on the award and Sir William Castell in our press release.

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.

'Pick 'n' Mix'Genetic engineering continues to provide great promise for drug discovery, assessment and production, but faces a strong battle on its public image. The term Genetic Engineering often induces public fear with regard to ‘GM crops’ and ‘designer babies’ therefore there is a need to manage public perception of this technology, especially as DNA editing technologies  continue to advance science fiction into science fact, as Hannah Murfet examines below.

Back to Base-ics

Genetic engineering, put simply, is the adjustment of the instructions of our cells, the smallest functional unit of life. The genome is the sequence of information required to code for an organism, this consists of a long code of DNA represented by four letters (G, A, T and C) – the nucleotide bases. The sequence of these letters codes for the proteins and how often they are expressed.

New technologies such as CRISPR/Cas employ the use of RNA to guide enzymes to the target editing site. Like DNA, RNA consists of a series of nucleotide bases (with U instead of T), that guide the enzyme on where to cut the DNA, thereby facilitating editing the genome. Changes in the coding of the DNA or bases take a range of forms – from single letter changes, insertions, translocations and duplications. There are many genome editing systems from ZFN to rAAV, but the apparent efficiency of the CRISPR-Cas system is driving investigation into its medical potential and also raising questions on the technical ability to ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ designer genes.

Medical Potential

Genetic engineering is routinely applied in medical treatment, particularly with the mass production of human insulin in bacteria since 1982. The future of this technology has continued with antibody therapy, where immune proteins are engineered and produced for targeted treatment of cancer and autoimmune disease.

Scientists are also able to make use of changes in coding to further our understanding of disease models such as cancer, where changes in the nucleotides can lead to changes in the way our cells behave. Cell and animal models can be used in pre-clinical trials to determine toxicity, and resistance patterns of new drugs and drug combinations. Work in these cell line models continues to develop, providing greater insights into pharmaceuticals before they reach clinical trials.

The future of genetic engineering takes this a stage further to target the cells in our bodies. Commonly known as gene therapy, this technology utilises a virus to insert a gene to treat disease where the coding is defective. In 2012, Glybera became the first gene therapy to be recommended for approval in Europe and last year went on sale in Germany for a record-breaking €1.1 million. The treatment works to restore the activity of a defective enzyme in the rare genetic condition, lipoprotein lipase deficiency. Gene therapy is one of the hottest areas in biotech at the moment, with a number of companies re-entering the field and growing investor interest, as highlighted at the recent JP Morgan Healthcare conference. The cost of these therapies is currently high, but the field of genetic engineering continues to evolve as new technologies are being adopted.

‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ Designer Babies

While currently any modification to germ line DNA is illegal in the UK, new techniques such as the CRISPR/Cas system continue to bring ethical debates on designer babies to public attention. The apparent simplicity of the CRISPR/Cas potential to cut and insert bases seems on face value almost as simple as cut and paste on a computer, and while it is not as simple as that, there is certainly clear potential for non-clinical use. There is no doubt that the level of debate increases when comparing the clinical utility for genetically inherited diseases such as sickle cell anaemia versus ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ options such as eye colour.

While the commercial offer of ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ designer babies may seem a long way off, it is close enough for a need to review the regulatory and governance framework. As with any new medical practice, from pharmaceuticals to medical devices to practices such as IVF, measures of verification and validation are necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness for patient use.

A Question of Ethics

The current work in genome engineering in somatic cells is creating some positive enhancements for medicine. With careful control and regulation the prospects for clinical treatment have massive potential, perhaps even one day early medical invention at the germ line stage. However it is vital to take care of the ethical implications of genetic alteration, in particular with regard to gene editing of human germ lines to ensure appropriate regulation of both clinical applications and crucially the ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ possibility. As this technology becomes more and more possible, it comes largely down to a question of ethics over the boundary between clinical utility versus human enhancement.

Any opinions expressed are the authors own

ANTRUK Logo“If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine” – Prime Minister David Cameron

The growing challenge of antibiotic resistance has begun to develop a commanding presence in global headlines. An estimated 25,000 people a year are killed by resistant bacteria in the EU. If nothing is done to halt its progression, it is estimated that by 2050, drug resistant infections will be responsible for the deaths of over 10 million people across the globe – more than cancer – at a cost of up to $100 trillion.

Amidst the doom and gloom, a paper published in Nature at the beginning of the year has provided a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel – a new antibiotic. Isolated from bacteria which grow in soil, the compound, named teixobactin, is the first new antibiotic discovered since 1987. Moreover, the bacteria targeted by teixobactin have failed to develop resistance and research suggests it could take up to 30 years for them to do so.

And the good news doesn’t end there. The majority of today’s antibiotics were isolated from soil bacteria, which produce the compounds to inhibit other microbes and thereby provide them with a survival advantage. However, these microbes are notoriously tricky to grow in the lab. The novel method developed by the scientists to cultivate the bacteria and isolate the antibiotic could potentially lead to the discovery of many more.

However (and here comes the but…), whilst the discovery remains a significant one, it will not solve the vast worldwide problem that antibiotic resistance has become. The compound must still pass through numerous tests before it can be considered for use in humans, and even then is only proven to be effective on a subset of bacteria (gram-positive). So whilst it’s important we celebrate this good news, we are still at the foot of the mountain that is the challenge of drug resistance.

Tackling resistant bacteria has become a global priority, and the BIA is delighted to have new charity Antibiotic Research UK (ANTRUK) as our supported charity for 2015. Launched last summer, ANTRUK is the first charity in the world dedicated to combating antibiotic resistant bacteria. Over the next five years, the charity aims to raise enough money to bring at least one new antibiotic therapy to market, with research to be carried out by UK universities and companies. This focus matches the BIA’s own work on the important issue of antimicrobial resistance. In 2014 we established a dedicated working group on the issue and will continue our international advocacy on the matter at BIO in the USA this summer. This new partnership demonstrates the commitment of the UK in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

By being our supported charity in 2015, we hope that ANTRUK will not only benefit from fundraising activities, but also from a partnership with us which will raise the profile of this fledgling charity. The sector needs a charity partner in this space, so alongside fundraising activities, we want to help ANTRUK develop through our network and connections. A number of BIA member companies are actively working in the field, including RedX Pharma, Discuva, Blueberry Therapeutics and Absynth. The partnership has mutual benefit and we look forward to working with them at events throughout the year – the first of which being our annual Gala Dinner, taking place this Thursday. The fight against antibiotic resistance is global challenge, and the UK is ready to lead the charge.

To find out more about Antibiotic Research UK, visit www.antibioticresearch.org.uk

Bennet_opening_insideJanuary is turning out to be a triumphant month for UK biotech, with another significant announcement made last Thursday in the form of new UCL spin-out company, Autolus. Following a £30 million investment from BIA member Syncona Partners (an independent subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust), Autolus will work in collaboration with UCL on research into cancer immunotherapy, specifically CAR-T cell products – one of the hottest fields from the recent JP Morgan conference. Their research will build upon work conducted at UCL by Dr Martin Pule, in another show of confidence in the UK’s strength as a life science research base. It’s fantastic to see a UK company at the forefront of this exciting and potentially game-changing treatment for cancer patients. Congratulations to BIA Chair, Ed Hodgkin, who will be taking on the role of CEO at Autolus, and a warm welcome to our newest member.

The announcement comes as we learn that £8.2 million has been committed by Innovate UK as a result of their Advancing Regenerative Medicines and Cell Therapies competition, which wrapped up at the end of 2014. The money will support six projects, five of which involve BIA members, including Autolus – congratulations also to Azellon, Cell Therapy Catapult, NHS Blood and Transplant and TAP Biosystems. Further details on the projects, which include investigating treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome, multiple myeloma, repair of torn meniscus, and methods in stem cell culture and process development, will become available on the Innovate UK database as soon as they get underway.

We saw the official opening of the Bennet Building at the Babraham Research Campus last week (pictured above), as part of a £44 million investment from the BBSRC, which will house new labs and office space for developing bioscience businesses – another excellent addition to the UK ecosystem. It’s great to see another hub opening, supporting the growth of new bioscience companies, and to see that the first two tenants are BIA members – Kymab and Eagle Genomics.

Meanwhile in Parliament, last Tuesday Greg Mulholland MP convened a parliamentary debate on the subject of very rare diseases, focusing on patient access to drugs for Morquio syndrome and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), conditions which affect 138 children in the UK. This comes as patients await commissioning decisions while NHS England consult on a new framework for prioritisation of new treatments. Life Sciences Minister George Freeman confirmed that NHS England is considering draft clinical commissioning policies for both drugs as part of its wider prioritisation process for funding in 2015-16; NICE will evaluate Vimazim for Morquio syndrome using the Highly Specialised Technologies (HST) programme and will decide whether to assess Translarna for DMD under the same. Our own December parliamentary roundtable with Genetic Alliance UK focused on the HSTs scheme and stimulated a few recent parliamentary questions from Peers. The Minister has urged NICE to consider whether it can expedite the process in any way and mentioned that he will work with the companies involved to see if ‘some kind of planning arrangement’ might be brokered to make a positive NICE opinion more likely.

Over in the House of Lords, the Medical Innovation Bill received its Third Reading debate; the last time Peers will debate the Bill before it moves to the House of Commons. It was good to see that an opposition amendment that the BIA had expressed support for was agreed. This amends the proposed legislation to require doctors who pursue innovative treatment to register the outcome of such treatments. This should both help bolster patient safety whilst also ensuring outcomes are understood and shared. The Bill however continues to attract criticism and scepticism, some of which the BIA shares. The timetable in the Commons is still to be confirmed and it is still uncertain whether enough Parliamentary time allows for this to pass. We will continue to monitor and update you on progress.

On the regulatory front, for those who are interested, the EMA is seeking comments on its draft proposal into how the transparency rules of the European Clinical Trial Regulation will be applied in the new clinical trial database. The consultation is open until 18 Feb.

Finally, it’s a big week this week for the BIA as we undertake two of our flagship events of the year – the inaugural Future of Healthcare Investor Forum and our hotly anticipated Gala Dinner. With both events, Thursday promises to be an action-packed and interesting day. Guests at the Gala Dinner will be hearing from our chosen charity for 2015, Antibiotic Research UK, and we’ll be announcing this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. There’ll be more on both events in next week’s update after a weekend’s recovery! I look forward to catching up with many of you there.

Best,

Steve

This week we’re featuring a video which showcases a collaboration between two BIA member companies – Heptares Therapeutics and AstraZeneca – combining forces in a novel drug discovery approach.

Heptares Therapeutics is a pioneer in the discovery of new medicines targeting G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), a super-family of proteins linked to many human diseases. By combining their expertise and technologies with AstraZeneca’s drug discovery capabilities, they hope to open up new treatment options for people suffering from pain of osteoarthritis, from inflammatory diseases or cancer.

Read the press release on the collaboration here.

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.

Supriya BW jpg2015 kicked off with a bang earlier this month for the biotech sector at the 33rd Annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference. Here, Supriya Mathur, Senior Consultant at Hume Brophy, provides an account of her first experience at the marathon event, including a round-up of the fringe events, receptions and predictions for the year ahead.

Suits on Union Square

The optimism in healthcare was palpable as San Francisco hosted its 33rd Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference (JPM) from the 12-15 January 2015. The once Hambrecht & Quist (H&Q) conference has now expanded beyond its simple beginnings to what is termed the ‘Super Bowl’ of healthcare.  This event is now deservedly the healthcare Olympics and sets the tone for the year ahead, modifying the geography and tone of Union Square, which converts into a sea of suits.

As a rookie at my first JPM, it was all a lesson in instant learning of the really important things –memorising the downtown map of hotels, juggling meetings and answering emails, ensuring you grab a lobby spot before your party arrives and possessing intel on all the Starbucks in range!

Despite the light hearted side of the event and the surreal aspect of bumping into familiar faces on San Francisco streets, JPM is a serious affair. The multiple meetings result in numerous M&A deals, investments, partnerships and hires. As one client said, it eventually it’s that ‘one’ meeting which makes the whole week of sleep deprivation worth it.

Conference and Fringe events

The Westin St Francis Hotel which hosts the main JP Morgan conference was abuzz with rooms overflowing at most presentations. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s lunchtime keynote address had queues snaking outside the Grand Ballroom. His bout with throat cancer had him admit he was a ‘recent beneficiary of the dynamic health sector’. This dynamism was clear to see, not only at the branded JPM event, but at the parallel Biotech showcase which saw 230 companies present. This included a very strong representation from UK companies and the largest class of public companies to date.

Receptions

Much of the business happens outside closed doors, presentations and breakout sessions. The fringe events and receptions are the chance to network and continue the conversation. Hume Brophy’s US partner Burns McClellan’s reception at the Neiman Marcus Rotunda was a grand affair attended by companies, investors, deal makers, and media from both sides of the Atlantic. Two other events that stood out for us were the excellent BIA / AZ party at The Old Mint – a truly historical venue – and the Thomson Reuters reception at the Martin Lawrence Galleries. Networking and great art, a truly unbeatable combination.

JPM in numbers

  • There was much debate on how many people were in San Francisco for the conference and related events. Numbers pulled out of a hat ranged from 15,000 to 25,000 attendees.
  • Twitter usage was another good measure of the pulse of activity. According to data from Forbes, the week generated:
    • 15,678 tweets using the #JPM15 hashtag
    • Tweets from 4,209 participants
    • 87,323,227 impressions
  • The hottest deal making sector in 2014 was healthcare. The industry is eagerly waiting to see what 2015 will bring.
  • Last year the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index rose 35 percent compared with 11 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.
  • 112 companies in the industry went public in 2014, far more than in a typical year, raising a record $9 billion.
  • The aggregate transaction value for the 89 M&A deals completed in 2014 reached a record $86 billion.
  • The one metric we are still looking for is the number of men / women in attendance at JPM. If anyone has those stats, please get in touch. We would love to know how the mix is changing over time.

Predictions for the year ahead

We heard a lot of things in San Fran. Some of the key takeaways were insightful and interesting.

Digital health is here to stay. It is no longer a sideshow, digital health companies and events had the highest attendance.

Therapeutic areas in the spotlight are likely to be Immune-oncology (PD-1, PD1-L, CAR-T (chimaeric antigen receptor T-cell) technology, RNA technology), inflammation, anti-infectives (hepatitis C, B but also antibiotics; the latter receiving government funding to stimulate drug development to offset resistance).

Other areas of unmet need, orphan diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, all remain ‘hot’. In 2015 the focus could remain on these areas, perhaps with a few additions such as CNS and allergy.

The optimism is high, especially for European healthcare, which is deemed good value, in comparison to its US counterparts. The European contingent kept this interest high with the UK biotech and the industry bodies – BIA and One Nucleus as well as George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, making their mark in a busy week in San Francisco.

JPM is a mini universe in itself and most attendees never go beyond the downtown area to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz, Presidio or any of the famous landmarks. Referred to by its many monikers – the healthcare Super Bowl, Olympics or circus – JPM is not just about presentations, meetings and networking. It is conclusively more result oriented than Davos and when it comes to healthcare, packs the bigger punch.

UKBSF_unlockingglobalmarketsA flash back to October 2014 today, as we recap another presentation from our UK Bioscience Forum. The ‘Unlocking Global Markets’ session highlighted some of the international opportunities available for UK companies, featuring a diverse selection of countries, from the heavyweights of India and China, to the smaller (and closer to home) Belgium and Sweden.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) works with domestic businesses to ensure their success in international markets and to encourage the best overseas companies to look at the UK as their global partner of choice. Mark Treherne, Chief Executive Officer, UKTI Life Science Investment Organisation, kicked off the session by highlighting some of the reasons why the UK itself is a valued global partner.

The UK’s increasingly integrated biomedical ecosystem is underpinned by a number of supportive factors. A supportive business environment, an open and flexible regulatory framework, simplified industry access points, and global connectivity and export potential, all contribute to the international appeal of the UK. Alongside an effective government funding framework for innovation, with initiatives such as the Biomedical Catalyst, the UK also leads Europe in innovation capital raised (US$467 million) and is second to Germany in the amount of Venture Capital raised, further establishing the UK as an attractive global partner.

But what opportunities exist in overseas markets, and how do we access them?

India

According to Mark, the generics-centric Indian pharmaceutical market is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.1% to reach US$45 billion in 2020, making it hard to ignore this growing overseas market. From the in-licensing of new molecules, to the exporting of equipment, technical consultancy and data analytics, a number of opportunities exist for UK companies looking to expand their international capabilities in India.

China

Like India, China is also a rapidly growing market full of opportunity and is set to become the world’s largest pharmaceutical market by 2020. China has over 3000 biotechnology companies and the current value of biologic drugs accounts for approximately 20% of the country’s total drug market. The vast Chinese market has opportunities in a variety of areas, as highlighted by Assistant Director of UKTI China, Clive Allcorn, from genetic engineering to stem cells to diagnostics.

However there are drawbacks. Chinese institutional investors are reluctant to commit a lot of money into early stage research as they know little of the likely timescales, failure rates and hence risks. VC firms from western countries are entering the market and can sometimes help to bridge this gap. Clive also mentioned that IP and resources can be issues in China, but this is becoming increasingly better regulated and moving in a positive direction.

Belgium

Gert Wauters, Senior Trade and Investment Advisor in Brussels, commented that Belgium is not generally high on the list when looking to do business overseas or export, but it should be considered as a good starting point. Belgium has a similar environment to that in the UK and a good track record with foreign investments (for example Lonza, Pfizer and GSK). The country also boasts an excellent academic research base, with a strong reputation with clinical trials. Particular opportunities highlighted by Gert focussed on traditional areas such as CNS, cardiovascular, oncology, vaccines and immunology. Indeed, one of the main hurdles was thought to be a lack of innovation in pharma.

Sweden

Another somewhat unlikely candidate, the position of Sweden as a geographical hub to the Nordic region is just one of the benefits of exporting to the country, according to Amanda Svensson Falk, Trade Advisor in Stockholm. Sweden also has the highest per capita spending in Europe on research and development within Life Sciences, with a national focus on eHealth – another reason to take a second look at the opportunities available, which focus on medical innovation, drug discovery and pharmaceutical commercialisation.

Pursuing international opportunities – where to start?

It can be difficult to know where to begin when pursuing opportunities in international markets. Mark demonstrated how UKTI can help companies make the first step, by providing introductions to the regional network, identifying relevant contacts and organising stakeholder events at the Embassy, as well as providing market and sector reports for the relevant country. These efforts help to ensure success in unlocking global markets, both big and small, and expanding the reach of UK companies across Europe and around the globe.

For more information, visit the UKTI website

CaSE_debate

The UK biotech sector was out in force last week in San Francisco for a week of key healthcare investor conferences, including the JP Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference and the Biotech Showcase. Sector headlines have been dominated by the vast number of announcements made over the last week, setting expectations of what’s to come in 2015. Biotech is flying high, with strong stock performance, an active M&A market and a sense that small companies are more than ever driving innovation in the industry. There’s a strong consensus that the bullishness will continue into 2015 and beyond.

Following my update last Monday, Liverpool-based BIA member, RedX Pharma, announced their intention to float on AIM – great news for the sector and hopefully the first of many UK life science IPOs in 2015. Combined with last week’s big trade deals – Biogen Idec buying Cambridge-based Convergence, and Shire (originating from the UK and also listed here) making its biggest ever acquisition in US company, NPS Pharmaceuticals – there’s plenty of buzz around the UK biotech ecosystem. This was further demonstrated over the weekend, as new data reported in the Sunday Telegraph revealed that venture capital backing for UK life science companies rose 41% last year to £527 million. Europe is still seen as an under-valued and under-capitalised market, but there is universal recognition that Europe has high-quality science and companies and represents a great opportunity for the future.

There was plenty of discussion around reimbursement. The example of the Gilead/AbbVie HCV drugs shows that delivering highly efficacious and safe therapies can command high prices. The hottest area in biotech continues to be gene and cell therapy, promising transformational efficacy in cancers and rare genetic diseases. There is an emerging debate about how these one-time treatments will be priced to capture long-term benefit.

Big pharma and big biotech were very much in evidence at the conference, with large partnering teams engaging with potential small company partners. The JP Morgan ‘fringe’ is still the most compelling partnering event of the biotechnology calendar.

Last Wednesday the Royal Society hosted the annual CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) debate between the science spokespeople for the three main political parties – the Conservatives’ Universities and Science Minister Greg Clark, Liberal Democrat Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, Liam Byrne. The policy debate provided an opportunity for the MPs to demonstrate their commitment to the sector, and covered questions on topics including investment, diversity, immigration rules and education. Greg Clark stood by the government’s recent Science and Innovation Strategy and stated that ‘the future of our country depends on science succeeding’. Liam Byrne and Julian Huppert meanwhile argued for change; Byrne emphasised that now is the time to strengthen rather than question the UK’s relationship with Europe and Huppert called for reform of immigration policy amongst steps to develop and retain a highly skilled workforce. Read more on our blog and feel free to feed in your thoughts.

In other news, and a key win for the BIA, the government has launched a consultation on improving the accessibility of R&D tax credits for small companies. This was originally announced as part of the Autumn Statement towards the end of last year, and is something the BIA has been calling for on behalf of our members. The consultation will focus on the four main areas that drive claims to the relief: awareness; design; understanding; and administration. You can find out more about the consultation here. The BIA will be submitting a response, so if you would like to get involved please contact Pamela Learmonth by the end of January.

Best,

Steve

In the run up to Christmas, the government released their Science and Innovation Strategy – ‘Our plan for growth: science and innovation’ – addressing how to support infrastructure, business investment and talent for UK science and innovation, and how to maximise the benefits for the UK economy. This week’s video, from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, outlines the strategy and what it means for UK researchers and innovators.

It’s great to see a long-term government plan setting out capital commitments which take into account several recommendations the BIA made on behalf of its membership and the wider life sciences sector, such as the equitable split in funding for higher education and maintaining the UK’s world class labs alongside large scale investments in major national and international projects.

Read our thoughts on the Science and Innovation Strategy here.

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.

westminster_palace_600_300This Wednesday the Royal Society hosted the annual CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering) debate between the science spokespeople for the three main political parties – Universities and Science Minister Greg Clark from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrat Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and Labour’s Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, Liam Byrne.

The panellists responded to questions submitted by the crowd including on investment, how to encourage diversity in science and engineering (particularly in senior roles), and on the need for evidence-based policy-making. While much of the debate focused on academic aspects rather than the translation of science into industry, the debate provided an opportunity for the MPs to demonstrate their commitment to and interest in the sector.

Greg Clark stood by the government’s recent Science and Innovation Strategy and stated that ‘the future of our country depends on science succeeding’. He focused largely on the need to increase diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and the need to boost collaboration as science and business become increasingly global endeavours.

Liam Byrne and Julian Huppert meanwhile made some passionate arguments for reform. Claiming that ‘if the global race is anything it is a science race – and right now Britain is falling behind’, Byrne emphasised that now is the time to strengthen rather than question the UK’s relationship with Europe. He also said that the current student funding system for loan repayments is not sustainable and suggested a shift to a ‘graduate tax’ system instead.

In response to Byrne’s call for a 10 year science funding framework, Huppert reasoned that a 15 year framework would be long enough to give certainty to researchers at an early stage in their career that would help to retain talent in the UK. He emphasised that having the right people in the sector is key, which should include enthusing young people about science, retaining our skilled workforce and improving immigration policy. Huppert recommended that come election time the public should vote based on which MPs care about evidence-based policy making.

When questioned why government aren’t investing more in science if they recognise it is so important to economic recovery, all the panellists including the Minister agreed they would like to see more investment in the future. Huppert said that government and industry both spend ‘far too little’ in the UK on R&D and that there should be repeated and reliable investment of sustainable funds. Byrne said that a Labour government would have ‘a different pace of deficit reduction’ and would seek to avoid destabilising Research Council funding.

On immigration policy there was broad agreement that the current system for post-study work visas needs reform and that highly skilled STEM workers should be welcome in the UK. Huppert called for Tier 1 visas (for entrepreneurs, investors and exceptional talent) to be easier to obtain, and for students to be taken out of the net migration statistics.

For more information on the debate take a look at the Royal Society blog or to review the twitter activity from the night and look out for the video when it’s released, see #casedebate15. If you’d like to feed in your thoughts on policies to support the UK life science industry, get in touch.