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.