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Looking back at National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week (6 – 12 March), Alex Felthouse from Eisai, and MMIP Skills Chair, discusses what we need to do next to ensure the UK has the STEM skills it needs.

There is significant focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) skills right now. These are needed to support our current pharmaceutical industry and to ensure the UK remains a world-leader in innovative Life Sciences as new technologies and products change the way we work and manufacture medicines.

Identified as one of the ten ‘pillars’ in the most recent Industrial Strategy Green Paper, the Government have made clear that addressing the gaps that exist in STEM skills is a priority: their focus and recognition shows that we are moving in the right direction, but how big is the challenge we face?

Well, if you take the industry-specific demand figures from the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) Skills Strategy, and the Government’s recently published ‘Strengths and Opportunities Report’ for the Medicines Manufacturing Industry workforce, you can boil the challenge down to:

The Medicines Manufacturing Industry needs to attract 3 new people for every 100 it employs each year from now till 2025!

This is clearly quite a significant demand and something all manufacturers need to be considering to ensure our industry is able to thrive in the future.

All parts of the education system need to work and do their bit; schools and colleges need to inspire and raise the standards of STEM education, Universities need to ensure adequate balance between theory and practical skills and we, the Industry, must engage at all levels to inspire and attract students to work in our sector.

The questions I pose to employers reading this are thus; are you doing your bit; do you engage with Schools through a STEM programme such as the SIP Ambassadors; do you host work experience; do you have an apprenticeship programme; do you engage with Universities and have an Industrial Placement programme? We must promote our great industry and push the opportunities and rewarding careers that are on offer. This is a win / win situation for students and the country.

With an increasingly mobile workforce, ensuring we have the skills as an industry to thrive may only be achieved by everyone doing their bit… three in a hundred every year till 2025!

Alex Felthouse is the General Manager of Eisai Manufacturing Ltd (EML) based in Hatfield, UK. 

Alex is a Chartered Engineer and has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 24 years. He has always had a keen interest in skills development, he currently chairs the MMIP Skills Workstream and is a Board member of the Science Industry Partnership (SIP).

This week: Manchester, Circassia, Astex, NICE and NHS response, Switzerland, Science and Technology Committee’s report into managing intellectual property and technology transfer.

Writing Newscast can sometimes feel like a commentary on what’s happening in Westminster so this week I want to start with a different perspective. In 2017 BIA companies are week in, week out celebrating major milestones and it’s right and important for us to both celebrate with them and tell their stories of success to others to show the strengths of our ecosystem. Two different examples this week that I hope we can all share with colleagues and networks – and which should be the talk of BioEurope in Barcelona.

First great news for the UK’s Astex Pharmaceuticals, as Novartis’s Kisqali gets FDA breakthrough approval. This new breast cancer drug was discovered in a collaboration with Astex – so is great news for patients from British science and innovation, with an interesting corporate story from well-funded UK biotech listed on NASDAQ via M&A, now owned by Japanese Otsuka. Astex today not only makes a milestone but employs over 200 people in Cambridge and is expanding. Its science is at the heart of a potentially very significant new therapy coming from UK innovation in partnership with the world.

Secondly, Circassia’s announcement on Friday that it has secured the US commercial rights to two COPD products from AZ is a significant moment as a key UK company makes an important commercial play through an interestingly structured deal.  Circassia now has a world-class respiratory business and can leverage its existing portfolio whilst AZ can focus on its core priorities. The products are a clear strategic fit with Circassia’s focus on respiratory medicines and will leverage and enhance their commercial infrastructure. So two key moments – two deals moving forward between global pharma and great UK biotechs – all BIA members.

It was great to see so many of you at our Manchester event last week where we updated on the progress on Industrial Strategy and heard [presentations from BioNow and the Medicines Discovery Catapult. For more information on the BIA’s regional events go to the events section of the BIA website.

You will have seen the ongoing media coverage of the NICE and NHS England decision to change the arrangements for evaluating and funding drugs and other healthcare technologies assessed through NICE’s technology appraisal and highly specialised technologies programme.  We will continue conversations with government on the industrial strategy for the life sciences sector and this decision will feed into these discussions – we will update you on the progress.

It’s vital that businesses of all sizes feed in their concerns around industrial strategy, and this week BIA members will be helping us shape our response to the Government’s Industrial Strategy consultation. Spaces are still available for the workshop on 23 March. This is your opportunity to influence our policy development and campaigning in 2017. It will be kindly hosted by Simmons and Simmons, EC2Y 9SS, from 9am to 1pm. Email Martin at mturner@bioindustry.org to reserve your place.

With the UK industry facing major changes around Brexit, the BIA in collaboration with Tekiu Ltd, is guiding a delegation of UK decision makers from across the UK biotech ecosystem to explore the sector in Switzerland. The delegation is made up of representatives from industry, government and the regulatory authorities, who will all be meeting with their Swiss counterparts to see how Switzerland operates outside the EU and what lessons can be learned for the UK. In view of Brexit, it is timely to examine the policies that allow both big and small businesses in Switzerland’s Life Sciences sector to flourish. Alongside BIA member companies, the delegation will include representatives from the Office for Life Sciences and the MHRA. The trip will also offer BIA members the chance to explore new business opportunities in Switzerland. You can read more about this on the blog. We also have strong BIA representation at Bio Europe Spring this week and we will round up on all our highlights next week.

Best,

Steve

Healthcare biotechnology creates and delivers innovative treatments and preventive interventions for the benefit of patients and healthcare systems across Europe. The achievements outlined in this video reinforce the European biotech industry’s commitment to continue delivering innovative therapies that make an impact on patients’ lives, and to work with policymakers to ensure the sustainability of Europe’s healthcare systems while fostering biotech innovation.

 

 

The UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) in collaboration with Tekiu Ltd, is guiding a delegation of UK decision makers from across the UK biotech ecosystem to explore the Swiss biotechnology sector.

The delegation is made up of representatives from industry, government and the regulatory authorities who will all be meeting with their Swiss counterparts to see how Switzerland operates outside the EU and see what lessons can be learned for the UK. In view of Brexit, it is timely to examine the policies that allow both big and small businesses in Switzerland’s Life Sciences sector to flourish. Alongside BIA member companies, the delegation will include representatives from the Office for Life Sciences and the MHRA. The trip will also offer BIA members the chance to explore new business opportunities in Switzerland.

BIA CEO, Steve Bates, said: “This trip offers organisations from across the UK’s vibrant UK bioscience ecosystem to meet with potential collaborators and learn from innovative solutions within biotechnology. It will be particularly interesting to learn about Swiss policies that promote biotech development, including tax and regulation to see whether any of these polices can be replicated in the UK to support UK bioscience businesses.”

Switzerland has a very different political system to the UK with a lot of decentralised power across the 26 cantons, which have some autonomy over issues that have an impact on the industry such as regulation and taxes. Learning about such a different way of operating will offer potential lessons that the UK could explore in the future.

Ted Fjallman, Executive Director of Tekiu Ltd said: “This delegation will help to build relationships between the delegates themselves and with their counterparts in Switzerland, and will allow them to gain new perspectives and to explore subjects in depth. Often all the representatives on this group would only meet once or twice a year and this visit will allow them to experience things together, have conversations about key issues for the sector and to synthesise the information from the hosts.”

The delegation will cover off some key issues that are relevant to the sector including technology transfer and will visit the tech transfer office at ETH University where they will learn different perspectives on how tech transfer works in Switzerland from representatives from academia and industry.

Representatives for the UK will meet a cross section of Swiss companies from SME’s such as Zurich based NeurImmune up to larger pharmaceutical companies like Novartis where they will meet experts from regulatory affairs, strategy and innovation and venture funding on a tour of the Novartis campus in Basel.

On the last day of the visit there will be a workshop for delegates to come together to discuss all of their individual learnings from the trip and discuss how any learnings can be implemented on their return to the UK.

The BIA will update on the delegation on the BIA blog.

About Tekiu

Tekiu is a knowledge transfer broker focusing on bespoke international visits for delegates from industry, government and academia. Tekiu’s vision is a world where companies, organisations and governments are actively engaging with their counterparts internationally to benchmark and learn from each other’s successes and failures. Tekiu has specific technical expertise and contacts in healthcare and biotech, environmental science, engineering disciplines, as well as education and innovation management. Geographically, the company focuses on the UK, Scandinavia and German-speaking countries.

By Liz Jenkinson and  Mandy Harding

In 1915 biochemist Chaim Weizmann patented a new technology for the production of solvents using microbial fermentation. His discoveries exploited the solventogenic capabilities of Clostridium acetobutylicum to produce acetone, butanol and ethanol (ABE) from starch-based feedstocks.  During the wars, production of acetone by this method was crucial in the manufacture of munitions and over the next few years ABE process facilities were established globally. Alas, by the 1980’s, the last ABE plants closed their doors (with the exception of a handful in China which clung on until the 2000’s) as this fermentation production method, primarily for butanol and acetone, was unable to compete with petrochemically derived counterparts. Fast-forward to 2016, and after 10 years of research and development and 18 months of plant engineering, the team at Green Biologics celebrated as the first tankers of bio-butanol left Central Minnesota Renewables (CMR), our company’s first ABE plant and the first to operate in the US since the 1940’s.

green biologics

So what’s changed? Firstly, technology. At Green Biologics we have access to hundreds of clostridial microbes characterised in terms of genetic information and feedstock utilisation that work in conjunction with our Advanced Fermentation Process (AFP™). Secondly, the marketplace. Acetone and butanol produced by microbial fermentation contain fewer contaminants than petro-derived equivalents giving us performance advantages in high value markets. And thirdly, there is much greater awareness and a desire to seek alternative, non-fossil fuel sources for everyday chemicals. In combination, this has enabled us to produce acetone and butanol at scale competitively.

The ultimate aim of Green Biologics is to become a renewable chemicals company, which means having the capability to diversify our product portfolio. Our experience with clostridia tells us that they are robust, industrial microbes with a unique anaerobic biochemistry, and they have the capacity to use a wide range of sustainable and/or renewable feedstocks. This makes them ideal platform strains for engineering products beyond butanol. However, this is no easy task. The clostridial genetic toolkit lacks the decades of research that have gone into model strains such as E. coli and until fairly recently, engineering any changes into the genome required stamina and an impressive dedication to the cause. All that changed with the emergence of CRISPR/Cas technology.

At Green Biologics we have developed and patented CLEAVE™, which is based on native clostridial systems rather than applying non-endogenous CRISPR/Cas9. The success of our technology has enabled us to generate strains engineered for enhanced performance in a matter of weeks rather than months (or occasionally years). We have succeeded in making strains that carry a single base pair change, all the way through to complex deletions, and have demonstrated the power of CLEAVE by introducing a new pathway to generate a strain capable of making a non-native high value product. The advantages of CLEAVE are 1) its specificity, the desired modification is the only modification we get, and 2) our ability to layer genetic changes whilst removing plasmid DNA results in markerless, process ready strains. Currently, our industrial ABE process uses lab-evolved clostridial microbes optimised for their performance in the AFP™. In the future, new chemical processes will use CLEAVE engineered strains carrying targeted genetic changes.

In this week’s CEO update: what does last week’s Budget mean for biotech; an international outlook; BIA Industrial Strategy workshop; S&T Committee report of their inquiry into IP and TTOs; and BIA in Manchester this week…

Putting Britain at the “cutting edge of the global economy” was the theme of the Chancellor’s first and last Spring Budget. However, there were few giveaways after an Autumn Statement last November that delivered significant new funding for research and innovation. Some of the key announcements for the life science sector included the allocation of the first tranche of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, investment in STEM talent and administrative changes to the R&D tax regime.

The Chancellor is right to focus on keeping the UK at the cutting edge of the global economy by investing in biotechnology and skills. The £270 million to keep the UK at the forefront of disruptive technologies like biotech, gives us a real opportunity to lead the world in new industries such as advanced therapy manufacturing – highly specialised production techniques that allow us to use cells and genes to treat a wide range of diseases from cancer to dementia.

The Chancellor also announced £90 million for 1,000 PhD places in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects and £200 million to support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers, in areas identified as important to the industrial strategy (including biotechnology and medicines manufacturing); £50 million of this will be for programmes to attract “top global talent”. Industry must be involved in the design and delivery of training to ensure these investments properly allow the UK to stay at the cutting edge of the global economy.

 

The review of R&D tax credits provided an opportunity to enhance the system to put it head and shoulders above other highly-competitive regimes, such as Belgium and France. It’s a shame the government hasn’t taken that opportunity but we are pleased that it listened to the BIA’s call to reduce the admin burden for businesses claiming R&D tax reliefs.

As promised by the Chancellor himself, this was a low-key Budget. However, it’s great to hear him put biotechnology first in the list of areas the industrial strategy will support. We are working hard in partnership with the government and our members to ensure public investment and support is well-targeted to grow our sector. The fruits of this are paying off with investment today to implement the proposals of the Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Action Plan, which the BIA helped produce and it was great to hear Virginia Acha of the ABPI making these points on Radio 4 this morning.

Having had the chance to understand more of the Chancellor’s thinking last week, I think he is fully committed to both the scale up agenda for UK SME’s and leading the world in free trade – so I think we need to watch carefully any government reaction to, or intervention in, acquisitions of UK owned companies in strategic sectors for implications for our own sector. Finally, it’s worth noting that the robust growth of the UK economy reported today combined with the reducing corporation tax rate and commitments to invest in sciences and innovation – including the Biomedical Catalyst – demonstrates that the UK remains a highly competitive place to invest in and grow biotechnology companies.

Read our analysis in full on the blog here.

I joined BiotechCanada colleagues last week for their Investor conference. It was great to build the network (which already has strong links) , and understand that the Canadian biotech community faces several of the same challenges we do. Talent, access to finance and the impact of changes in the USA are common conversations in both countries – and I was able to gain some insight into what its like to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU from the outside.

We need your input to shape our response to the government’s Industrial Strategy at a workshop on 23 March. This is a year of opportunity for the bioscience sector and this is your chance to tell us what to campaign for. The workshop is for all BIA corporate members and Advisory Committee Chairs. It will be kindly hosted by Simmons and Simmons, EC2Y 9SS, from 9am to 1pm. Email Martin at mturner@bioindustry.org to reserve your place.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has released a report today on managing intellectual property and technology transfer that states that improvements are needed to the commercialisation of university research. You can read the BIA reaction to this here.

This week we’re in Manchester, defining the biotech lab of the future on Wednesday with VWR International and we’re also holding the latest in our series of networking breakfasts at Alderley Park on Thursday morning. We’ll be joined by Dr Geoff Davison, Chief Executive of Bionow on regional opportunities within the Industrial Strategy, Dr Andy Jones, Vice President Pharmaceutical Innovation at AstraZeneca and Chris Molloy, CEO of the Medicines Discovery Catapult who will update on the Catapult as regional and national asset for the sector. Looking forward to seeing many of you there.

Best, Steve

Following International Women’s Day on Wednesday, today’s video from Historic England and The Royal Society celebrates the contributions female scientists have made to the world. Watch it below.

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.

This month we’re taking a look at the burgeoning engineering biology industry, with a series of guest posts from members of our recently re-named Engineering Biology Advisory CommitteeEvery high-tech industry is built upon essential supply chains and the UK’s engineering biology industry is no different, as Dr Zoë Freeman, Head of Operations at Synthace, explains below.

Engineering is built upon traceability, accuracy, reliability and precision, where a mathematical basis for obtaining valid data and basic metrology is prerequisite. Welcome to the world of synthetic biology, populated by a multi-disciplinary group of researchers and tech-bio companies who are turning biology into a fully-fledged engineering discipline. As one of the UK’s ‘Eight Great Technologies’ and the subject of significant investment and strategising, there have been great expectations for the synthetic biology field to start delivering the goods. A recent Royal Society event posed the question, Synthetic Biology: Does industry get it?

A number of UK companies have indeed been developing break-through products, such as Oxitec’s genetically engineered self-limiting mosquitoes, Prokarium’s Salmonella-based vaccine delivery platform, and Green Biologics’ bio-based renewable chemicals such as n-butanol.

Yet it is important to remember every high-tech industry is built upon essential supply chains and the UK’s engineering biology industry is no different. In pursuit of applying engineering principles to biology, a core of organisations are coming together to create flexible and fit-for-purpose services, software and technology platforms that include libraries of genetic parts, highly optimised and fully characterised protocols, DNA engineering technologies and more.

The great benefit of the engineering approach is the ability to ‘do biology’ more reliably, reproducibly and effectively and to use that ability to manufacture exciting solutions for health, food and fuel challenges. To realise that ambition, the less glamorous underpinning steps are about standardisation of parts, characterisation of practices, and metrology – basic measurement of biology.

  • LGC are developing more accurate measurement and characterisation methods for the synthetic biology sector, including SI (International System of Units) characterisation of transcript number, and working with Desktop Genetics on measuring CRISPR-mediated gene editing success. Desktop Genetics are also working with US regulatory and standards organisations on how to demonstrate safe and characterised gene editing.

Of course, biology is hugely context dependent, informed by any given combination of biological, environmental and temporal conditions. The movement towards standardisation and characterisation does not aim to underestimate that challenge of biological complexity; instead it aims to address it head on, using advances in computation and data analysis.

The Antha workflow editor for design, simulation, visualisation and automated execution of biological workflows

  • At Synthace we have created Antha, a software platform that makes it easy to rapidly compose and execute reproducible workflows on lab automation and analytical equipment in a very flexible way. Antha thus provides researchers with the experimental bandwidth to do the multi-factor experiments necessary to explore biological complexity.
  • Synpromics have been very successful in developing custom synthetic promoters for cell-type or condition-specific control of gene expression, with diverse applications including in mammalian bioprocessing.

With these foundations bedding in and collaborations emerging, companies in the supply chain are exploring new directions too, with some also starting to develop new products themselves. For example, Oxford Genetics formed with an interest in bringing standardisation to DNA and, having gained insights along the way, the company has extended into mammalian expression systems and cell line engineering.

The World Economic Forum defines the Fourth Industrial Revolution as being ‘characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres’. This revolution is starting with a well-equipped supply chain.

Putting Britain at the “cutting edge of the global economy” was the theme of the Chancellor’s first and last Spring Budget. However, there were few giveaways after an Autumn Statement last November that delivered significant new funding for research and innovation.

Announcements for the life sciences sector include:

  • New medicines manufacturing technologies will be one of the first competitions of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund following proposals put forward by the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership, which the BIA is part of.
  • The government will make administrative changes to the R&D tax regime to increase the certainty and simplicity around claims made by large businesses and improve awareness among SMEs. There were no changes proposed to the scope of the R&D tax regime.
  • Almost £300 million will be made available for 1,000 new PhD places, fellowships and attracting “global talent”.
  • The government will introduce T-levels – technical education equivalent to A-levels – and fund maintenance loans for students pursuing technical education at higher levels, as is available to those studying on the academic route.

First tranche of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund allocated

At the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as part of a £4.7 billion extra investment in science and innovation in this Parliament.

The first tranche of this – amounting to about £270 million – has been allocated today to “disruptive technologies”: biotechnology, robotics, and driverless vehicles. The Budget document expands on this to say it will accelerate “patient access to new drugs and treatments through developing brand new medicine manufacturing technologies, helping to improve public health”.

The investment will allow the implementation of recommendations in the Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Action Plan to anchor this sector in the UK. The Plan was published in November by the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership, which is a collaboration of the BIA, ABPI, Innovate UK and the government. The BIA understands that a little below £100 million will be made available for match funding with industry through a competition run by Innovate UK.

R&D tax incentives review

This was announced at the Autumn Statement 2016 to “look at ways to build on the introduction of the ‘above the line’ R&D tax credit to make the UK an even more competitive place to do R&D.” There has been no public consultation but the BIA has met with the Treasury officials leading the review and submitted evidence and policy recommendations to inform their thinking.

The Chancellor said that the government has concluded that the R&D tax regime is internationally competitive but did not outline any plans to enhance or reduce it. He committed to reducing the administration burden for companies claiming relief – a point the BIA raised in our submission – and raise awareness of it among SMEs. The government will keep the system under review.

Investment in STEM skills

The Chancellor also announced £90 million for 1,000 PhD places in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects and £200 million to support new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers, in areas identified as important to the industrial strategy (this includes the life sciences and medicines manufacturing); £50 million of this will be for programmes to attract “top global talent”.

The Chancellor also announced the introduction of new T-levels – age 16-19 technical education equivalent to A-levels, which will include an industry placement. From 2019-20, the government will provide maintenance loans – like those available to university students – to students on technical education courses at levels 4 to 6 in National Colleges and Institutes of Technology.

Corporation tax and the apprenticeship levy

The Autumn Statement confirmed that the government remains committed to the Business Tax Roadmap implemented by George Osborne at Budget 2016. This means the rate of corporation tax will be cut from 20% to 19% next month and will continue to fall to 17% by 2020. The apprenticeship levy is also due to come in next month, which will be charged at 0.5% of annual pay bills of more than £3 million.

No mention of Brexit

There was rumour that the Prime Minister would trigger Article 50 as early as tomorrow but this now looks unlikely after the House of Lords added amendments to the Notification Bill to secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK and give both houses of Parliament a vote on the final agreement. This means the Bill will now go back to the Commons for further debate. Lord Heseltine – a long-time advocate of industrial strategy and investment in science – has been sacked as a government adviser for voting against the government.

You can keep up with the latest news on Brexit and the BIA’s activity with our monthly Brexit webinars.

The BIA’s conclusion on the Budget

As promised by the Chancellor himself, this was a low-key Budget.

However, it’s great to hear him put biotechnology first in the list of areas the industrial strategy will support. We are working hard in partnership with the government and our members to ensure public investment and support is well-targeted to grow our sector. The fruits of this are paying off with cash today to implement the proposals of the Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Action Plan, which the BIA helped produce.

The R&D tax review provided an opportunity to enhance the system to put it head and shoulders above other highly-competitive regimes, such as Belgium and France. It’s a shame the government hasn’t taken that opportunity but we are pleased that it listened to the BIA’s call to reduce the administrative burden for businesses claiming R&D tax reliefs.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the robust growth of the UK economy reported today combined with the reducing corporation tax rate and commitments to invest in sciences and innovation – including the Biomedical Catalyst – demonstrates that the UK remains a highly competitive place to invest in and grow biotechnology companies.

Earlier this week we teamed up with Alzheimer’s Research UK, our charity of the year for 2017, to deliver a webinar on the dementia R&D landscape in the UK.

The webinar highlights the various funding opportunities available to support the development of novel dementia treatments, and why working closely with industry and academic institutions is paramount to finding a cure. Withe speakers including Dr David Reynolds from Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Janet Brownlees from MRC Technology, Dr Rick Livesey from Gen2 Neuroscience and Dr Lee Dawson from Astex Pharmaceuticals.

Do you have a video you would like the sector to see? Contact us.