Kicking off this week with some great news, I’m delighted to be able to announce that our official charity of the year for 2016 will be JDRF, the type 1 diabetes charity. The BIA will be supporting the charity to raise funds and will be working with the JDRF team to see how the two organisations can work together to promote the vital role that UK bioscience plays in solving unmet patient need. Increased understanding of the immune attack that causes type 1 means that we are closer than ever to eradicating the condition. UK scientists are working together to produce revolutionary new treatments that could both cure and prevent type 1, a condition which can have a devastating impact on those who live with it and their families. The whole team at the BIA is excited to be supporting the work of JDRF in 2016 and January’s Gala Dinner will ensure that this partnership gets off to a successful start.
In other good news, congratulations to the BIA’s Pamela Learmonth who was selected as a Rising Star in this year’s 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness report. This year’s report showcases just some of the brilliant female leaders in our sector who are playing a key role in driving the growth of UK bioscience, and it was great to hear from a number of them at the BioBeat Conference on Friday (check out #BioBeat15 on Twitter for details from the conference). The sector faces critical challenges in securing bright, skilled staff with entrepreneurial fair and leadership élan. 50 Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness 2015 demonstrates that this talent is out there and I hope that by showing the range of opportunities to succeed on offer will help pave the way for the next generation of female talent.
November is proving to be a busy month in policy. The big event this week is the Chancellor’s comprehensive Spending Review and Autumn Statement this Wednesday. As many of you will know, at BIA we have taken every opportunity to advocate for the protection of the science and innovation budgets that underpin the UK life sciences sector: cross-sector open letters in the national press in support of basic research funding and innovation funding; roundtable discussions with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury; reporting the great success of the Biomedical Catalyst in leveraging additional private funding among wider benefits; briefing MPs ahead of parliamentary debates, and more. And crucially, many of you have written directly to the Chancellor and Business Secretary to give tangible examples of the innovative companies and projects that government support is helping to thrive – thank you again, as we know that these have been well-received and effective when landing in Ministers’ in-trays. We collated a final evidence round-up last week, which you can see here.
Of course, we have all been forewarned that this will be a very tough Spending Review… The Government has a mandate to reduce the deficit, and it has asked every department to model 25% and 40% budget cuts. The science budget has previously been ring-fenced in flat cash terms against a backdrop of cuts, and rumours are circulating that innovation grants may be changed to loans of some sort – one of the topics prompting discussion at our CEO dinner last week. On Wednesday BIA will provide top-line commentary by email on the CSR and its initial implications for our sector, and we’ll keep in touch as more specific details (the devil is always in the small print and won’t emerge on the day) are revealed over the coming weeks. I don’t expect to see specific mention of the Biomedical Catalyst in Wednesday’s statement.
Last Thursday saw the publication of Sir Paul Nurse’s long-awaited review of the Research Councils. While the implications of the report won’t be entirely clear until the Spending Review has been announced and the Government has responded, on first reflections there are recommendations to tentatively welcome. These include maintaining the seven existing councils, continuing the science funding ring-fence, and placing more importance on the councils’ engagement with businesses and collaboration with Innovate UK. The key change proposed is that the existing councils will sit under Research UK (RUK), an arm’s length body with more responsibility than the current Research Councils UK, that would have budgetary control and accountability for spend on science and research across the councils.
Also last week, BIA sent in a short submission to the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry into EU Membership and the Effectiveness of Science, Research and Innovation in the UK. To complement other submissions noting various relevant funding streams and the benefit of free movement of skilled employees, BIA’s submission highlights a few angles of particular relevance to industry. We’ve stressed the need for more impartial information and recommended that the Government should set out the practical implications for life science businesses of a) the UK staying in a reformed EU, and b) how it would approach the legal and regulatory implications of a vote to leave the EU (such as how it would expect to handle the European Medicines Agency and the Unified Patent Court potentially leaving London, how medicines would continue to be approved and regulated, and an assessment of the impact on inward investment). The findings of the inquiry will help to shape further debate ahead of the referendum.
Finally, on events, the thriving bioscience community in Manchester was in the spotlight last Thursday at the last in our series of Science and Finance Breakfasts for 2015. Throughout the year we’ve travelled across the length and breadth of the UK as part of the Breakfast roadshow – from Stevenage, to Nottingham, to Manchester and beyond. Check out our events calendar for details on planned BIA events and activities in 2016.
Looking to this week, we now have over 300 attendees travelling to Hinxton for the bioProcessUK Conference, I look forward to seeing many of you there.