The big news from last week was of course the outcome of the 2015 General Election. Collectively braced for a tight result with a likely hung parliament leading to rule by coalition or a minority government, we were as surprised as anyone else by the initial exit poll putting the Conservatives ahead and then further still by the final outcome giving the Conservatives a clear, though slim majority of 331 seats (out of the total of 650 seats which make up parliament).
So for an election where no clear winners were expected, there are clearly two. David Cameron, returning as Prime Minister with a Conservative government, as well as Nicola Sturgeon, under whose leadership the SNP swept the board in Scotland taking all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats. It was a bruising night for Labour, losing major figures such as Ed Balls, Danny Alexander and Jim Murphy, having a worse night in Scotland than even anticipated and failing to make gains on the Conservatives in marginal seats in England. Worst still was the outcome for the Liberal Democrats, losing seats to all the other major parties, returning only eight MPs and losing key figures including Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Charles Kennedy and Vince Cable.
Friday morning saw the resignation of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and also Nigel Farage, who failed to win the Thanet South seat (though leaving the door open for himself to stand for re-election in the Autumn). The Liberal Democrat leadership contest has begun with a July deadline set for the outcome – Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, on the respective left and right of the party look to be frontrunners. For Labour, there is no set timetable, though it is hoped a leader will be elected at or in advance of September’s Labour Party Conference. As of the time of writing, Dan Jarvis has ruled himself out, Liz Kendall has ruled herself in with other likely candidates including Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Chuka Umunna.
Over the weekend we have witnessed the formation of Cameron’s new Cabinet. Continuity is the watch word for the key posts with George Osborne returned as Chancellor (and given the title of First Secretary of State, interpreted by some as an indication that Cameron hopes that Osborne will be the one to ultimately succeed him as PM), with Theresa May remaining as Home Secretary, Philip Hammond as Foreign Secretary, Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary, Nicky Morgan as Education Secretary and Iain Duncan-Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary. Appointments will continue to be made over the coming days and of course, now no longer in coalition, there will be more seats around the Cabinet and Ministerial table for Conservative MPs. We have seen one of these gaps filled today in an important role for our sector: Sajid Javid becomes Business Secretary (the role previously held by Vince Cable). Javid moves across from his former position as Culture Secretary having also held roles at the Treasury. Bright, well-regarded and seen as a rising star in the Conservative ranks, he will be an important figure for the life sciences community. Cameron has also announced that Boris Johnson will attend Cabinet, though he will have no formal ministerial position whilst he serves the remainder of his term as the Mayor of London.
As you will know, pre-election, Conservative MP George Freeman was the Minister for Life Sciences. Freeman has returned to Parliament but we will have to wait and see if the post of a dedicated Life Sciences Minister is continued or whether it is within a broader brief, where that sits in Government and who is the individual with that Ministerial brief. However, in any scenario the policies set out in the Conservative manifesto give rise to a positive picture for the sector arising from last week’s result. (Also see the BIA’s seven party manifesto overview document here). Continued commitment to an effective life sciences industrial strategy, further resources to regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, action on antimicrobial resistance plus a pledge to be the most competitive business tax regime in the G20 are all policies that the BIA has called for on behalf of its members. Again, watch this space for further details.
At a broader level, this election outcome will prompt wider debate on some key macro-political issues – where the devolution debate will go next, constitutional reform and crucially the in-out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU that the Conservatives have pledged to by the end of 2017. As set out in our UK Life Sciences Manifesto 2015-2020, the BIA believes that the UK government needs to set out a clear plan of the expected disruption to UK life science businesses including how it would expect to handle the European Medicines Agency leaving London, how medicines would be approved and regulated and the likely impact on investment.
Turning to the make-up of Parliament itself, we see the inevitable mixture of departing figures, surprise exits, continuity and fresh blood. From the major parties, long-standing friends of the life sciences sector have stood down from Parliament including David Willetts, Andrew Miller and Andrew Lansley. The hit the Liberal Democrats have taken at the polls has extended to faces familiar to life sciences, including Vince Cable, Julian Huppert and Norman Baker. We also see continuity in that the previous government and shadow ministers for the life sciences brief, George Freeman and Iain Wright, are both returned to Parliament.
In terms of some new faces in the 2015 Parliament who are likely to be interested in and relevant to UK life sciences there are several to note, including:
- Kit Malthouse, pictured above alongside BIA CEO Steve Bates at the opening of the LSE in January this year ahead of the Healthcare Investment Forum, enters Parliament alongside his GLA colleague Boris Johnson, former headline speaker at the BIA’s UK Bioscience Forum
- Andrea Jenkyns, the new Conservative MP who took her seat at the expense of former Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, also pictured here at the 2015 BIA Gala Dinner when she spoke in her capacity as a champion for antimicrobial resistance
- Daniel Zeichner, the new Labour MP for Cambridge who BIA members met with in March 2015 to discuss innovation and finance policy in the context of a local biotech summit where BIA CEO Steve Bates was a keynote speaker
- Lucy Frazer, the new Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire (Jim Paice’s former seat) who the BIA has already introduced to a number of member companies.
We will be engaging with these figures and the rest of the new Parliamentary cast going forward and in particular at the BIA’s forthcoming Parliament Day on 25 June.
Outside the General Election, the sector was busy celebrating its talent at this year’s Science Industry Skills Awards, organised by Cogent Skills. There was a great representation of BIA members amongst the winners – many congratulations to all who won an award. Also on awards, good luck to all those involved in the OneStart European finals which will take place later this week. It promises to be a good night and I look forward to seeing some of you there.
On fundraising, it was good to see US biotech group Verseon successfully list on AIM last week, with the second largest biotech IPO on LSE after Circassia and the largest biotech listing on AIM, raising £65.8 million. Congratulations also to BIA member, Kymab, on the completion of their US$90 million Series B financing. Backed by Woodford Patient Capital Trust, this is a great early example of how the fund will begin to benefit the sector in the coming months.