IMG_1728_600x300I was delighted to be able to attend and speak at the official launch of the Centre for Process Innovation’s new £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre (NBMC) in Darlington last Wednesday. Announced in 2012 as part of the government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences, the NBMC will support companies of all sizes to develop, prove and commercialise new biologic process technologies. The Centre is a fantastic addition to our ecosystem in the UK, significantly increasing our manufacturing capacity in biologics and bolstering our position as a world-leading location for life science companies. It’s amazing to see it built and opened in a few short months, and its great that BIA members have engaged so fully on its industrial advisory Board. The kit, the space and the enthusiasm of the team make it well worth engaging with as you consider or look to improve bioprocessing.

The NBMC was officially opened by Steve Bagshaw, CEO of BIA member Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies and Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science – who I managed to catch up with on the train to Darlington.

I’m heading North again today, to Manchester, for the Conservative party conference – updates to follow next week. Down in Brighton last week the Labour party conference was busy with delegates, despite the notable absence of several Labour MPs. With the new Shadow Ministers having only been in position for under two weeks, most of the fringe events focused on fairly broad topics rather than drilling down into much policy detail. However, in her speech at the conference, new Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Angela Eagle MP said that “to win this race, we need to support R&D and innovation which can create the industries of tomorrow. We need to support small business. We need to ensure that business finance is available to exploit the pioneering scientific innovations we are so good at producing in this country. And then we need to convert these innovations into the next generation of world beating companies”. This sounds like a promising start and we await further details of evolving Labour policy.

I chaired our roundtable event with Life Sciences UK and the AMRC (pictured), at which we had a full table of representatives from UK life science business, charities, the local Academic Health Science Network, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, NHS Providers and learned societies. We were delighted to be joined by Lord Hunt OBE and Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge and member of the Science & Technology Select Committee. Attendees heard about partnerships between different types of organisations that are achieving great results, such as Ataxia UK’s new collaborative drug discovery programme with Pfizer, and Oxford Immunotec’s partnership with the Wolverhampton Refugee and Migrant Centre to tackle tuberculosis in hard-to-engage populations. Lord Hunt was enthusiastic to follow up with this conversation after the publication of the Government’s Accelerated Access Review – it’s great to have his support and active engagement to progress this area.

In other policy matters, last Monday we submitted our written evidence to the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee inquiry into genetically modified insects. In our response we highlight the great potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology, including the work of BIA member Oxitec and its recent acquisition by US-based Intrexon Corporation. The business deal highlights excellent science and research that is being undertaken in the UK, and will send a positive signal: a) to other companies, encouraging them to invest and grow in the UK and potentially to list on the public markets; and b) to the investment community, stimulating additional interest in UK biotechnology from specialist and cross-over investors. Therefore, while it is still ‘early days’ for the UK’s synthetic biology industry, it is important that the Government continues its sustained strategic support (for life sciences and the Chancellor’s Eight Great Technologies) to enable emerging companies to grow, and help the UK to maintain its leading position. You can read the evidence in full here.

We’ve also been busy submitting our comments to the government Apprenticeship Levy consultation, which you can read in full here. The bioscience sector is underpinned by skilled, science-based and high ‘Gross Value Added’ jobs and accordingly ensuring the UK has a highly skilled and mobile workforce is of great importance. Our response highlights the need for proportionate investment of higher value apprenticeships and, given the wider skills agenda the UK needs to pursue in order to remain globally competitive, states the case for a workforce or skills levy rather than a pure apprenticeship levy. As well as concerns around practicalities, our response also expresses concern and disappointment at the government’s decision to cease match funding for the Science and Industry Partnership (SIP) post March 2016. Our sector’s experience (for both large companies and SMEs) of the SIP has been incredibly positive and proved to be an effective mechanism for employers to contract with quality providers and thus drive their investment in apprenticeships, skills and development.

Following an official UK Government e-petition against the recently approved beagle farm in Yorkshire, which has now reached over 15 000 signatures, the Government has issued an official response. I’d recommend having a read if you have the time – it’s a very clear and comprehensive response, which openly discusses the importance of animal research and the role it plays in the development of new medicines.

At a European level, last Monday the European Commission marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the first EU pharmaceutical law with a conference in Brussels. Overall it was great to see EU pharma law celebrated as a success story, however challenges still remain and collaboration and partnership remain key to overcome these. The perennial issue of transparency cropped up throughout the day, with European Health Commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis urging for open debate on pricing. He also called on pharma to begin to shift focus to the prevention of disease, as he sees the need for a move from healthcare to disease prevention, and also innovation and advanced therapies. June Raine, MHRA and EMA, highlighted the importance of keeping patients at the heart of benefit-risk assessments. Delegates also heard from Guido Rasi – now nominated as executive director of the European Medicines Agency. More information from the day is available from the European Commission, and you can watch the conference in full via video recording.

It’s now just over a week until this year’s UK Bioscience Forum, which takes place at the Royal College of Surgeons next Thursday 15 October. For those of you yet to register, and to whet the appetites of those who have, we’ve listed five key reasons you’d be mad to miss this year’s offering on the blog – read it here.

Finally, a couple of notes on deadlines. A reminder that Wednesday is the closing date for the receipt of ballot papers and proxy forms with regards our AGM on 15 October. Do take the time to cast your vote if you haven’t already more information here. And I’m pleased to announce that applications for OneStart 2016 officially opened last week. More information on our Funding Opportunities page.