Jury members, winners and runners-up from last year's EuropaBio Most Innovative European Biotech SME Award (including BIA member Autifony)

Jury members, winners and runners-up from last year’s EuropaBio Most Innovative European Biotech SME Award (including BIA member Autifony). The competition is now open for applications for 2015.

As expected, last Wednesday saw a host of government announcements relevant to the sector – including further details on George Freeman’s Innovative Medicines and Medical Technology Review (IMMTR) and the first scientific opinion as part of the Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS).

Details of the Advisory Board for the IMMTR were revealed – to be chaired by Sir Hugh Taylor, Chair of Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust and with Sir John Bell running the advisory board – alongside the Terms of Reference. The UK’s bioscience ecosystem is committed to developing the treatments of the future and getting them from the lab bench to patients as quickly as possible. The review will provide a welcome opportunity to ensure the UK has the policy framework needed to be the go-to place in the world to develop new therapies as quickly as possible. It’s especially encouraging to hear that all major parties see its value, ensuring this important agenda will continue to get due consideration over the election period. The BIA will be working closely with members to ensure we harness the potential of this review to make a real change for patients – do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.

Many of the issues that the review will address are ones that the BIA has repeatedly raised on behalf of the life sciences sector. Hence it is really important that this review is ambitious in the level of impact it will achieve to ensure that globally mobile companies and investors take notice to enable patients to benefit from the investment in UK bioscience.

It was also great to hear that BIA member, MSD’s pembrolizumab for advanced melanoma has received the first scientific opinion as part of the EAMS. The BIA has been a long advocate of the potential that EAMS has to speed up patient access to innovative drugs and a year on from the launch of the scheme the challenge is how to ensure that this approval is one of many and not one of a few.

In other good news last week, congratulations to Ruth McKernan who has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of Innovate UK. Ruth has a wealth of experience in the life sciences sector, with previous roles at BIA members Pfizer, BBSRC and the Cell Therapy Catapult – a great appointment for Innovate UK, and for the UK’s science sector.

BIA and other United Life Sciences members, One Nucleus and MediWales, made the trip across the channel to Paris last week to BioEurope Spring. It was good to see that UK companies made up over 11% of the total conference attendees. The conference itself was packed with excellent sessions, good networking and as always a busy partnering schedule. A quick thank to you Biopartner for all their help in negotiating the discount for members and ensuring that UK companies were visible in the exhibition area. Looking forward to upcoming overseas events, the BIO convention taking place in Philadelphia during June is very much on our radar now. We are delighted that there are UKTI Trade Show Access grants available to cover exhibition costs and also for full Convention and Partnering Access passes. The grants are available for new-to-export companies –  less than 25% of your turnover comes from the USA and you have no established presence or regular customer base there. Full details can be found here.

Also in Paris, the BIA attended a meeting hosted by the OECD, designed to get the business perspective on the implementation of the revised Patent Box. As we’ve explained in previous blogs, the rules underlying all Patent Boxes are changing to be compliant with what is termed a “modified-nexus” approach. The general principle behind this approach is that IP income cannot benefit from a Patent Box unless the taxpayer itself has incurred expenditures contributing to that income. To demonstrate that “nexus”, a “tracking and tracing” approach is needed. The OECD will be producing an approach on tracking and tracing that will inform implementation of the changes to Patent Box regimes at a national level. The BIA, the only UK trade association in the room, was there with a variety of BIA members to make practical suggestions as to how the policy can be implemented without causing unnecessary burden and costs to business. If you’d like to learn more please contact Pamela Learmonth and we will be back in touch with a full update soon.

Last Wednesday was also a day of audience members putting questions directly to politicians at pre-election hustings events in Westminster. At the Society of Biology’s ‘Science and the General Election’ (#SAGE15) debate, BBC Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh moderated the panel which included not just the usual suspects (Universities and Science Minister Greg Clark, Shadow Minister Liam Byrne, and the Liberal Democrats’ Julian Huppert) but also representatives from the Scottish National Party (Alasdair Allan MSP), Plaid Cymru (Hywel Williams MP) and UKIP (Julia Reid MEP). On immigration policy, the panel members agreed that there is value and importance in being able to attract highly skilled international talent to the UK; Greg Clark focused on numbers of international students, Julian Huppert and Liam Byrne were in support of the previous post-study work visas, and UKIP’s Julia Reid advocated implementing a points-based system as used in Australia.

The Guardian Healthcare Network and ABPI Big Health Debate ‘The future of the NHS: delivering modern services and treatments to patients’ (#GdnHealthHustings) was chaired by Guardian health correspondent Denis Campbell and featured Liberal Democrat Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb, Labour Shadow Minister Liz Kendall, and Conservative Health Minister Daniel Poulter. Much of the discussion was based around funding and cuts in the health service, and the disconnect between the successful and well-supported NHS described by government ministers versus the one perceived by many NHS employees in the audience. Asked whether their parties would commit to a review of NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) in the next parliament, Liz Kendall said Labour would, while Lamb praised the aims of NICE and neither he nor Poulter committed to any review.

This week’s flagship event is of course Wednesday’s Budget Statement. The last Budget of this Parliament we can expect a variety of announcements geared towards the electorate, however there is scope for some interesting business announcements. Look out for our analysis on Wednesday afternoon and sign up to our webinar on 26 March to learn more about the implications and put forward your questions.

On Tuesday the BIA will also be celebrating with the EMA at its 20th Anniversary Conference “Science, Medicines, Health: Patients at the heart of future innovation” – looking back over the past two decades and also forwards at upcoming challenges, discussing with key stakeholders how to best support innovation in order to increase public health.