Last week 35 CEOs and senior executives made the trip to Westminster for our annual Parliament Day, an action-packed day of meetings with key policymakers including Innovate UK CEO Ruth McKernan, Sir John Savill, the Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Neville-Rolfe, three special advisors, ten MPs and key civil servants in the Departments of BIS, DH and HM Treasury. The meetings were an excellent opportunity to discuss some of the key issues facing the UK bioscience sector and the policy support required from government to ensure that the UK can fulfil its ambition of becoming a third global cluster.
As well as a full discussion of the implication of the result of the EU referendum, BIA members were able to press the case for refilling the Biomedical Catalyst and the need for a funded early access scheme in the Accelerated Access Review.
I’m also delighted to say that last week the government’s Ministerial Industry Strategy Group agreed to the formation of a taskforce to provide recommendations and considerations for how the UK can seize the opportunity to define a new relationship with the EU. This is a major opportunity for the BIA to ensure its members’ voice is heard by the new incoming government. The steering group will be co-chaired by George Freeman, Andrew Witty of GSK and AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot. The BIA will ensure the process and plan is practically delivered to deadline working alongside the ABPI and the public agencies like the MHRA and the HRA that sit within the Government’s life science remit. More on the practicalities next week.
As it has become clear today that Theresa May will be the new Prime Minister, I think the following line of her speech this morning is particularly relevant to our sector. In a paragraph reported as a swipe at the Chancellor George Osborne she said, “Two years ago the Government almost allowed AstraZeneca to be sold to Pfizer, the US company with a track record of asset stripping and whose self-confessed attraction to the deal was to avoid tax. A proper industrial strategy wouldn’t automatically stop the sale of British firms to foreign ones, but it should be capable of stepping in to defend a sector that is as important as pharmaceuticals is to Britain.” I’m sure we’ll see a lot more flesh put on the bones of this sentence in the coming months but I think it bodes well that the incoming Conservative leader understands from day one the importance of our sector to the future of the UK economy. It also hints that “proper industrial strategy” will be part of her government – so I hope this will include a reinvigorated strategy for the life sciences – something I know George Freeman stressed the importance of to her before declaring his support for her candidacy last week. She also stressed that even though she campaigned for remain “Brexit means Brexit” so we can be clear of the planning environment we will be working in.
Also on Europe – if you missed our member webinar following the EU Referendum result, it’s now available to view on the blog here.
In some good news for the sector, on Thursday Business Secretary Sajid Javid announced £10m of funding for the Biomedical Catalyst 2016. For full details visit the Innovate UK website. Do note that the briefing webinar for potential applicants takes place tomorrow afternoon, more info here.
The BIA has continually called for a re-commitment to this highly successful scheme over the past year and it is great to see that innovative start-ups in the life sciences sector will have access to really valuable funding to allow them to get projects off the ground that have the potential to meet unmet patient needs in a range of conditions.
However whilst this announcement meets a short-term need, it is not the ongoing commitment that the BIA wants to see the government make towards innovation policy and funding. Despite signs of continued momentum and maturity in the private funding of the UK’s bioscience sector, there is no room for complacency. The lack of reported seed capital for UK bioscience companies in 2015 shown in our latest research underlines the importance of effective support for early-stage companies through fit for purpose innovation policy from the government. To secure the future of the sector we need another full round of the Biomedical Catalyst funding like the £130m we saw committed over the course of the last Parliament – a message we made loud and clear during our Parliament Day meetings.
Given the political and economic uncertainty that the country has seen over the last fortnight, it is now more important than ever that the government supports high-tech, innovative sectors such as bioscience with globally competitive innovation policy and funding. The BIA will continue to voice this message over the coming weeks and months to the new Prime Minister and his or her government.
Parliament Day was followed on Thursday evening with some spectacular views of the Thames at our Summer Networking Reception, held on the rooftop terrace at the Institute of Engineering and Technology. Some much needed relaxation following a busy day, and great to catch up with so many of you there – take a look at our pictures from the evening here.
Finally on BIA staff news, I’m delighted to announce that Laura Collister has joined the team as interim head of communications and public affairs for a year. Laura most recently worked at GSK in the UK operating company as Head of Government Affairs. Laura also worked at Vodafone, the Cooperative Group, ABHI and Fleishman Hillard in public affairs and communications roles. I’m sure you’ll all join me in welcoming her to the team.