Archives for category: Guest post

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.

jo-churchill

Marking Rare Disease Day 2017, our guest blog today comes from Jo Churchill MP, Chair of the All Party groups for Medical Research and Personalised Medicine.

Today hundreds of patient organisations from countries all over the world will host activities marking Rare Disease Day. While a disease may be rare, having a rare disease is not. A rare disease is defined as one that affects less than 1 in 2,000 people, however, 1 in 17 people, will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their lives. This equates to approximately 3.5 million people in the UK. Rare diseases are often chronic or life-threatening and 75% of them affect children. Despite the prevalence and severity of rare diseases, a significant proportion of patients do not have access to the best available care and treatment.

In 2013 the health departments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came together to publish the UK Strategy for Rare Diseases, to ensure that health and social care systems across the four nations provide those living with rare conditions with the highest possible quality of care and treatment, regardless of where they live in the UK.

rare-disease-day-graphic

In October last year however, NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published a consultation proposing changes to the way medicines are evaluated and funded, which, if implemented, would see patients with rare diseases in England being denied access to treatments available to patients with the same or similar conditions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. NHS England and NICE are yet to respond to the consultation, which closed in January, but the original document set out plans for the proposed changes to come in to force on 1st April this year.

Most concerning for patients with very rare conditions is the proposal to introduce a £100,000 cost effectiveness threshold for medicines evaluated via NICE’s Highly Specialised Technology (HST) programme. It is widely acknowledged that cost-effectiveness measures are not appropriate for evaluating medicines for very rare diseases, due to small patient populations and often limited data. In 2014 NICE established the HST programme to address these challenges. The programme provides an alternative evaluation process for medicines for very rare conditions, which gives less weight to cost-effectiveness criteria and considers the impact of medicines beyond their direct health benefits.

Many treatments for very rare conditions that are currently funded by NHS England have cost-effectiveness measures in excess of £500,000, including the three medicines that have been approved by NICE’s HST process to date – Soliris for Atypical haemolytic uraemic syndrome (aHUS) a blood disease; Vimzim for Morquio syndrome, a rare type of birth defect and Translama for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Under the proposed changes, medicines which exceed the £100,000 threshold will be evaluated via NHS England’s prioritisation process. This process is not appropriate for assessing medicines for very rare conditions as it fails to take in to account broader factors such as unmet medical need, burden of illness and impact on patients and carers.  The new threshold will therefore, effectively stop the flow of new medicines reaching patients with very rare diseases.

Additionally, the consultation’s broader focus on economic thresholds will disproportionately disadvantage highly innovative, first-to-market drugs, which are often expensive to develop and produce but provide promising treatment options for patients with high unmet need, including patients with very rare conditions. By making it more difficult for patients to access these medicines, the proposed changes could inadvertently make the UK a less appealing prospect for companies considering where to invest and develop their medicines. This could mean fewer opportunities to discover new, potentially life-saving medicines in the future.

rdd-social-profile

The theme of this year’s Rare Disease Day is research. Rare disease research is crucial to providing patients with the answers and solutions they need. As Chair of the two All Party groups covering both Medical Research and Personalised Medicine, I am passionate about finding answers. I am concerned that we ensure collaboration across Europe, and beyond, to enable research into rare diseases, in which I include rare cancers, for patient benefit. I am currently trying to take a Private Members Bill through Parliament, putting the role of the National Data Guardian on a statutory footing. I firmly believe we need to concentrate on two strands; firstly the patient journey, including the support of family and, secondly, the use of consented data for research to find those answers.

I am acutely aware of the difference research can make, whether it’s providing a diagnosis, offering treatment options, or ultimately finding a cure. As the slogan for this year’s Rare Disease Day appropriately explains, ‘with research the possibilities are limitless’. However, this is only the case if research can be used to make innovative medicines and treatments that patients can access. If NHS England and NICE push ahead with their proposed changes they will limit the possibilities, and subsequently limit the treatment options available for patients with very rare conditions.

 

malcolm-skingle-chair-sip

Last week the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) launched their Strategic Skills Action Plan. This follows their Skills Strategy launched in 2016. Today’s guest blog from Malcolm Skingle, Chair of the SIP board, takes a look at the changing image of vocational education.

We are currently witnessing the most far reaching changes to further and higher education in decades – including to the funding environment (the Apprenticeship levy) and across technical education more broadly (The Post-16 Skills Plan). And the Government has also set a target for three million more apprentices “to deliver the skills employers need” in this Parliament.

Alongside this education reform, the Government is building its new Industrial Strategy and its Green Paper is out for consultation. One of the Paper’s 10 ‘pillars’ is to build a “proper system” of technical education.

The Science Industry Partnership has been working hard to influence all of this, and indeed has been very positive about what it sees as an unprecedented opportunity to position academic and technical qualifications on an equal footing. We want to ensure that, in future, technical and vocational education is a distinctive, prestigious, high-quality offer in its own right and a positive, informed choice for young people.

Our employer members have always delivered high-paid, high-skilled jobs; but in recent years, we have put out a clarion call for much better, higher quality, vocational education to meet the demands of our high skill STEM occupations.

Along with the BIA, the SIP recently responded to the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry “Closing the STEM Skills Gap” to further build the evidence base around pressing STEM skill shortages and the need to reduce them. We set out, in our response, what our SIP Skills Strategy had told us – that there are a range of occupations where appropriately skilled people are in critically short supply.

And the solution? The continued pursuit of excellence in delivery of science vocational skills, supported by industry. The need to build greater capacity in the college and university system for evolving skill areas. And the appropriate funding to sit alongside this.

For example, new degree apprenticeships carry parity of value and esteem for both learners and employers.  They offer a fantastic route to a STEM career, creating a new type of graduate who becomes technically competent through undertaking advanced work-based learning while studying.

sip-blog-comp-image

Strategic Plan

The SIP has developed a Strategic Skills Action Plan that has a five year horizon. This sets out the cross sector collaboration with a range of key partners that is required in order to deliver on this high skill, vocational agenda.

A clear part of this plan is to create a network of vocational science Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) around the UK. HEIs have a critically important role to play, and some may have to depart from traditional frameworks of study and create even stronger relationships with employers, to ensure a fit-for-purpose curriculum supported by industry.

The newly announced Institutes of Technology are also set to play a key part in STEM education. These will bring supply and demand together, working across Further and Higher Education and in partnership with local employers to create community bodies that really add value.

Our “Trailblazer” employer group is playing a vital role too, in developing new Apprenticeship Standards and assessment of competence that are creating a clear, accredited route through to the top of the most advanced science professions. We know that the apprentices in our sector are ambitious to achieve professional status. We were delighted to announce recently that ten apprentices from leading science-based companies, Lucite and Pfizer, were the first to successfully complete the new STEM Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards. They met the Standard across many different disciplines ranging from complex manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, drug product formulation design, synthetic organic chemistry and analytical research & development, all underpinned by an extensive training programme in the workplace.

Finally, while we are wholeheartedly supportive of this newly developing model of high quality, vocational education, we do continue to call for much more flexibility in the use of the levy. For example how might we make best make use of unused Apprenticeship Levy within the science sector to optimise employer engagement on training and to support upskilling of the workforce?

The forthcoming Industrial Strategy gives us an opportunity to work together to maximise this investment. We are developing a proposal for skills, as part of the “Sector Deal” for science, a much welcome invitation which was put forward from Government in its Green Paper.

The SIP recognises that all of this reform and change presents challenges and opportunities for science employers, and our members will continue to work, in conjunction with Government and its agencies, Trade and Professional Bodies, Providers and Higher Education Institutes to meet the skills challenges facing the science sector now and in future.

The power of the sector approach is here to stay.

MMIP plus logos

Ian McCubbin, Chair of the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership, is stepping down from the role and reflects on the work achieved by MMIP over the past two years.

After two years of chairing the Medicines Manufacturing Industry Partnership (MMIP) I am now in the process of handing over to Andy Evans, the Head of AstraZeneca’s manufacturing site in Macclesfield. Andy has already thrown himself into the role during what is a very interesting time, for two main reasons.

Firstly, MMIP has really established credibility in the medicines manufacturing community, and with Government and associated organisations. In many ways I know that MMIP is seen as a role model for how we should work with government in the Life Sciences sector. It is also very timely following the vote to leave the EU and as Government starts to design the Industrial Strategy and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy within that.

As I reflect on our contribution, it’s clear we have progressed significantly with a number of important topics, not least the Advanced Therapy Manufacturing Taskforce (ATMT). The Taskforce published its  action plan in November and, while awaiting an official Government response, we are already seeing progress with a competition to be opened in February for viral vector capability and hopefully other funds from the industrial challenge fund opening soon too. We have progressed how to close the skills gap and we are working very closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Office for Life Sciences and the Department for International Trade on other actions.

Beyond the ATMT, MMIP continues to support the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre and ADDoPT, both of which will contribute to medicines manufacturing innovation, and ultimately commercialisation and the sector’s contribution to the UK economy. The Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre will provide an open-access hub where medicines manufacturing stakeholders can collaborate, research and pull through emerging technologies and manufacturing processes into a commercial manufacturing environment. ADDoPT is the Advanced Digital Design of Pharmaceutical Therapeutics, it creates virtual medicine manufacturing systems to make sure they are effective and efficient before creating them in the real world.

With the support of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, BioIndustry Association, Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network and of course all the companies who have committed their valuable time and energy, MMIP has been able to create  momentum at exactly the right time. Some may say luck, but to paraphrase Gary Player, “The more we practice, the luckier we get.” I am very grateful to everybody who has generously thrown themselves into this project and I would urge anybody with a passion for the UK and medicines manufacture to find out more and to contribute to MMIP too.

I think Andy will do a great job as chair of MMIP and I am certain medicines manufacturing will form a very influential part in the future of the UK economy.

For more information about the MMIP, and how you can become involved, visit the MMIP webpage.

mac-leadership

As we gear up to this year’s BIA Committee Summit on 24 February, we’re taking a look at what some of our eight Advisory Committees have been up to. In today’s blog, Kit Erlebach, Deputy Chair of the Manufacturing Advisory Committee, details their bioproduction leadership initiative which launched in January.

On the 17th and 18th January, the BIA’s Manufacturing Advisory Committee (MAC) launched their Skills Networking Tour at FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies in Billingham. The programme was created to support the development of the next generation of bioprocess leaders, as part of BIA MAC’s objectives of connecting, advising and influencing.

The recent action plan delivered by the Advanced Therapies Manufacturing Taskforce, co-chaired by Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP and Ian McCubbin, SVP North America, Japan & Global Pharma Supply, GlaxoSmithKline, outlined the need for an end-to-end talent management plan to secure the relevant skills for emerging manufacturing technologies. This is an essential pillar to establishing the UK as the global hub of advanced medicinal therapy manufacturing and ensuring the long-term success of this industry in the UK.

The development of managers in the biopharmaceutical and cell and gene therapy industries is an important part of the training landscape to deliver senior leaders of the future. Two key aims of the MAC initiative are:

  • to promote cross-sector learning  by offering an overview of the work of other companies across biopharma, vaccines and cell and gene therapy by seeing them in action
  • to develop a network with peers to promote best practice

A total of 11 BIA member companies are currently taking part in the scheme: Allergan, the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, F-star, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, GE Healthcare, Lonza, MedImmune, Oxford BioMedica, Pall, Porton BioPharma and UCL.

As part of the project, the group of 11 participants (one representative from each of the above companies) will attend a series of site tours to offer an overview of the work of other companies in the sector by seeing them in action. Each site visit is preceded by a pre-dinner the night before, to encourage the development of a network of peers.

We were delighted to welcome 10 of the 11 company representatives involved in the tour to the FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies site in January. We had a detailed tour of two manufacturing facilities and parts of R&D. There were presentations on the site and company as well as the new potent molecule facility, some of the improvements undertaken and a career overview from one of the site leadership team.

The participants were very positive about the day and pleased to be part of the programme, giving some great feedback on the day. We look forward to continuing to develop the programme to deliver on the needs of BIA members and wider industry.

bsb_strapline

BrisSynBio is a multi-disciplinary research centre that focuses on the biomolecular design and engineering aspects of synthetic biology, and has been established as one of six Synthetic Biology Research Centres in the UK. Find out more about the centre and its new Innovation Programme in today’s guest blog from Andy Boyce, BrisSynBio Innovation Manager.

Bristol is one of those cities that people move to and never leave. The people are friendly; the city is dotted with beautiful old buildings, giant painted Gromit statues and original Banksy art; and you can get high-quality organic falafel on almost any street corner. There’s a great start-up scene for digital tech and creative industries. However, despite some truly world-class bioscience research, there is a noticeable lack of biotech companies. I think that this may be about to change and that synthetic biology will be the key to unlocking Bristol’s biotech potential.

Like many other institutions, the University of Bristol has been riding the wave of excitement for synthetic biology. Off the back of some fantastic basic science, it was awarded one of the UK Synthetic Biology Research Centre grants from BBSRC and EPSRC. This initial £16M five-year programme established BrisSynBio, a multidisciplinary institute that acts as the focal point for over £70M of synthetic biology related research at the University.

At just over halfway through the project, BrisSynBio is in an exciting and productive phase. Researchers are generating high impact synthetic biology papers, and new engineering approaches have enabled a rapid translation from basic science to close-to-market products and services. It was this wealth of commercially relevant projects that prompted BrisSynBio to get in some dedicated resource (that’s me!) to accelerate these ideas to market and encourage the next wave of spin-outs, licencing deals and industrial partnerships. I’ve had superb support from BrisSynBio management and researchers, and after a few frenetic months we’re excited to announce our new BrisSynBio Innovation Programme.

bsb-wordcloud

The deliberately ambitious vision for the programme is: (1) to develop a self-sustaining funding stream from BrisSynBio innovation activities; (2) to establish BrisSynBio as a high-profile centre for synthetic biology innovation with a vibrant industrial network; and (3) to foster a long-term culture of innovation at all levels of BrisSynBio students and staff. While these are long-term aspirations, we are close to reaching our first major milestones. Our first spinout company will be incorporated in Q1 2017, we will hold the first in a series of BrisSynBio Connect industry engagement events in April, and we have opened applications for a joint business acumen course with SynbiCITE.

We’ve been helped in our efforts by a University and citywide resurgence in excitement for innovation and biotechnology. BioDesign has been announced as one of seven new Specialist Research Institutes, which represent the areas where the University of Bristol sees potential for significant growth and international leadership. In addition, new Bristol biotech companies can benefit from the world’s top rated university incubator (SETSquared) and dedicated lab space in two new purpose built facilities (Unit DX and Future Space).

photo-06-facilities

There will be lots more coming in 2017 and we would be delighted to hear from you if you are interested in collaborating or want to know more about what we are up to.

Andy Boyce, BrisSynBio Innovation Manager: andy.boyce@bristol.ac.uk

32591032225_d018b99a40_o

Alzheimer’s Research UK Champion, Shaheen Larrieux, felt like she was ‘walking through darkness’ for years before her mother, Hosna, 70, was diagnosed with behavioural variant Frontotemporal Dementia (bvFTD) in 2013. The symptoms – including aggression and inappropriate behaviour in public – started a decade ago but she could not understand what was causing her mum to act so differently. Shaheen, who shared her story at the BIA Gala Dinner, talks about the devastating effect dementia has had on her family and the sacrifices she has made to give her mum the best possible care.  

Around 10 years ago my life changed completely. I used to have a high flying career as a Chemical Engineer and Management Consultant, which enabled me to travel the world, but this was all put on hold when my mum started experiencing signs of dementia.

I first realised something wasn’t right when I had to do more of her daily tasks, such as paying bills or making decisions for the family business. But it wasn’t only me who noticed a difference, she had become aggressive and my family would tell me to take her to see a doctor.

Mum was initially misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011, but we were offered little support and her behaviour continued to get worse, particularly in public. She would turn up at the doctor’s surgery and interrupt other appointments. She also became obsessed with young children, often walking up to them in the street to pinch their cheeks. Our relationship suffered too. I would spend hours crying because I could not understand why she was being so horrible to me.

shaheen-and-hosna

It wasn’t until 2013 that we finally got an accurate diagnosis. Mum had bvFTD, which affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain regulating personality, emotions and language use. This did make things easier because I could properly understand what was going on and was able to empathise with her, but we still had a battle on our hands to get her the care she needed.

Despite dementia being so prominent in today’s society, I continue to be shocked by how little understanding there is – in Bangladeshi culture we do not even have a word for it. As my mum’s behaviour got worse, our family life became more difficult. The social isolation became acute because of changes in her behaviour.

I did not realise I had become her carer, so my whole life was put on hold, which left me feeling very depressed and socially isolated at times. I’ve always been fiercely ambitious and was looking forward to taking the next step in my career, but those plans had to change. My mum’s condition is getting worse, her mobility is limited and she can barely speak, which is incredibly hard for my dad because it is like he has lost his wife.

31779063243_680cb90dac_o

This is why it is so important to fund research into dementia and the diseases that cause it, because of the devastating impact it has not only on the person with dementia, but everyone else around them.

Thanks to Alzheimer’s Research UK, I have been given my life back and I feel valued in society once again. Through the charity, I’ve been given so many fantastic opportunities to really make a difference, such as sitting on the panel to help select the director of the UK Dementia Research Institute and campaigning at the House of Lords.

I embrace every chance I get to raise awareness of dementia and the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which is why I was honoured to be asked to speak at the BIA Gala Dinner, and I’m delighted that the UK BIA has chosen to support this fantastic charity. I’m hopeful for a future free from dementia, but in the meantime, I will do everything I can to change public perception of this condition so no one is left feeling alone.

ukcrctissued

The UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre (the Centre) has been set up to improve researchers’ access to human tissue samples. One of the Centre’s main outputs is an online tissue directory which will hold information about sample collections across the UK and make it easier for researchers to find and access samples for high quality research.

In this blog, the UKCRC Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre’s Project and Engagement Manager, Emma Lawrence introduces the project and discusses how the UK Bioindustry can help shape its future direction.

What is the UKCRC Tissue Coordination Centre?

The Centre is the UK’s national biobanking initiative, it represents a first step in integrating national biobanking infrastructure to support research activity. It currently has three main work programmes:

  1. The Tissue Directory – promoting the visibility of UK human tissue samples;
  2. BBMRI-ERIC – working to promote quality and interoperability within Europe;
  3. Engagement – working with people and organisations to promote best practice, governance and public engagement.

The Centre was established in 2014 by the UKCRC Experimental Medicine Funders Group in order to achieve their Vision for Human Tissue Resources.

The Centre has therefore been established to promote best practice, harmonisation and standardisation, and to increase sample visibility in the hope that this will lead to increased sharing of samples, creating a more efficient UK research environment.

What is the UKCRC Tissue Directory?

The Centre has launched a UK wide Tissue Directory. The directory contains the details of biological samples and data, held across more than 80 biobanks in the UK. You can also search for existing capabilities to request fresh or bespoke tissue collections.

Human tissue samples are routinely collected by researchers and biobanks across the UK but, until now, finding tissue samples appropriate for research could often be time-consuming. The directory aims to facilitate communication between researchers and biobanks, providing a quick and efficient route for researchers to access appropriate samples and data to match their research needs.

Researchers can search the online directory and locate appropriate tissue samples held by a specific biobank, based on the associated datasets available, the age and gender of donors, and the sample type. It is possible to search the directory using the specific disease term, by viewing the list of diseases or the A-Z of Biobanks.

Watch the introductory video below

Why is this important to the UK Bioindustry?

The Centre want to engage with all stakeholders in the human biosample community. To make it a resource that works for everyone we’re interested in your feedback, please visit the website and contact us to let us know what you think.

rachel-connor-jdrfAs the year draws to a close, today we reflect on our charity partnership for 2016 with a guest blog from Rachel Connor, Director of Research Partnerships at JDRF in the UK. It’s been a fantastic year of collaboration, raising awareness of type one diabetes and the important role of UK bioscience in ongoing research – read on for some of the highlights.

For JDRF and type 1 diabetes research the past twelve months have been marked by progress and excitement at what the future holds. We are delighted we could share this success with the BIA, as its 2016 Charity of the Year.

Over the past year the BIA has joined JDRF in Parliament, raised a significant sum at the annual Gala Dinner and celebrated new developments in vital research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes and its complications. 2016 marks thirty years since JDRF was founded in the UK and it was fantastic to be joined by the BIA in marking three decades of research progress, and in looking to the future, where we are confident we will find the cure for type 1 diabetes. Partnerships where JDRF can join forces with organisations such as the BIA are a vital aspect of this.

JDRF 30th Anniversary Dinner, Guildhall, London. Byline John Nguyen/JNVisuals 27/10/2016

BIA CEO Steve Bates talks to the Duchess of Cornwall at the JDRF 30th Anniversary Dinner

In January, our team were lucky enough to attend the BIA annual gala dinner at the Natural History Museum, joining 600 life science professionals, and what a terrific night it was. The evening raised a fantastic £30,000 for JDRF. Much of this was raised from a silent auction that followed a touching speech from our supporter Simon Vinnicombe, whose young son lives with type 1 diabetes.

Simon spoke passionately about what the cure for type 1 diabetes would mean for his and so many other families in the UK. Simon’s description of the day-to-day struggles of caring for a young child with type 1 diabetes was deeply moving. And sadly his is a story shared by so many others. But this is why his speech was a vital reminder of the importance of supporting type 1 diabetes research.

Simon Vinnicombe addressing the BIA Gala Dinner

Simon Vinnicombe addressing the BIA Gala Dinner

In April we were delighted to be joined by the BIA at our #Type1Catalyst event in the Houses of Parliament. This event saw 100 JDRF supporters – including young children from across the UK – join key figures in bioscience and research to meet with over 30 MPs, including the then-Home Secretary Theresa May, who lives with type 1 diabetes. The event saw the release of a report, titled Type 1 Research Today, which outlines the current landscape of type 1 diabetes research in the UK. This report presents a positive picture of UK government and charitable research funding available for developing insights into this condition and celebrated the recent acceleration of ground-breaking research.

The Type 1 Research Today report also highlighted that institutions and funders can maximise value through greater communication and partnership, calling on the UK funding ‘ecosystem’ to be protected and enhanced. Although we were unable to capture and reflect the scale of industry investment in to this research effort, we are absolutely clear that the life science industry is a vital partner in this research ecosystem.

This is one reason we were so pleased to be a part of the BIA Celebrating UK Bioscience campaign, showcasing research and collaborations taking place across the sector and helping to raise awareness of these essential aspects in biotechnology.

In July we shared the exciting news that JDRF was to partner with BIA member and Cambridge-based biopharmaceutical firm Arecor Ltd on a project which will see a focus on perfecting a concentrated form of insulin. This would mean that a smaller vial is needed to hold the liquid in an insulin pump, allowing the whole pump to miniaturise. Miniaturising devices such as insulin pumps will make them less intrusive, heavy and cumbersome, breaking down barriers to their use.

type-one-1

The Arecor partnership was included as a case study in the Celebrating UK Bioscience campaign and JDRF joined Dr Jan Jezek, the Chief Scientific Officer at Arecor in presenting, via a video, the complex science in an accessible way. Simon Vinnicombe told his story as a poignant reminder of why such research is so important and valued on a human level.

We are honoured and grateful to have enjoyed twelve fruitful months as the BIA’s Charity of the Year. We now look forward to seeing further progress over the coming years, and hope to continue working with the many BIA members we have met through the year to the benefit of people with type 1.

Thank you for your partnership, your generosity and your attention in supporting JDRF to raise funds and awareness throughout this landmark year.

You can read about JDRF’s experience at our annual Parliament Day here.

For more information on JDRF’s partnership with BIA member Arecor, watch the video here or download the infographic here.

Earlier this week we announced Alzheimer’s Research UK as BIA charity partner for 2017 – find out more here.

angelsinmedcityAngels in MedCity is a partnership between MedCity, London Business Angels and Angels4LifeSciences. The programme aims to introduce new and existing business angels to investment opportunities from healthcare and life science companies. Read on to find out more about the initiative in today’s guest blog from Will West, CellCentric and Simon Kerry, Karus Therapeutics.

As highlighted at the recent BIA UK Bioscience Forum, the investment ecosystem has matured in recent years, with a wider range of different types of investor funding opportunities available to the biotech sector.  This includes the rise of Angel investment in healthcare, where we are starting to see some real success stories of life science companies that are raising significant early-stage and growth capital from UK-based high net worth individuals.

The UK government has long recognised the potential of Angel investment and has created highly attractive tax incentives, particularly through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), where profits can avoid Capital Gains, and if things don’t go so well, up to 70% of losses (100% in the case of SEIS) can be offset against your tax bill.

MedCity has taken the leading role in building a dedicated life-science Angel investment community through the Angels in MedCity (AiMC) initiative.  Working in partnership with London Business Angels and Angels 4 Life Sciences, six pitching events have been held at various venues in London over the last 18 months, with 37 UK-based life-science companies presenting. Around half of these have secured funding, over £10m in total. These include Desktop Genetics, StepJockey and Jellagen.

Critical to the success of AiMC has been the quality of companies that have been selected to pitch. This has been ensured by: (1) having strong competition with events typically over-subscribed 4-fold; (2) a clear screening process of companies’ plans, resources and teams; and, (3) an assessment of whether the investment needs of the company, both in the short and long term, are angel appropriate. To ensure the best opportunities are identified from wherever they might be based, pitching is open to companies from across the UK.

Importantly, AiMC has been able to reach out to Angels that are new to life-science investment. AiMC brings these new certified High Net Worths together with those experienced in biotech investment.  This has been strongly helped with investor training sessions that have been run in parallel to the pitching events themselves.  These have seen over 300 people attend.

Learning from other organisations and listening to feedback from the community, MedCity and its partners have ensured that the process is as open as possible to all participants.  This is a non-profit exercise, with a mission to minimise the burden on both companies and investors, and maximising the opportunities to both.

There used to be a view that biotech opportunities were too risky, complex or too long term for Angels.  The emergence of newer healthcare technologies, particularly in medtech, tools and services, have offset this, not requiring the capital investment or time of a classic drug discovery play.  For additional follow on funding, contrary to expectations, Angels can sit alongside other types of investor.  Angel-funded businesses have subsequently obtained VC investment (Karus Therapeutics) or even gone forward to IPO (Horizon Discovery).  Of interest will be the rise of investment platforms, such as Syndicate Room, and how these sit alongside Angels and other types of investment in biotech.

The barrier to starting a biotech company is as low as it has ever been.  Technology transfer organisations have matured, there is more inherent expertise in the community as a whole, and the Government is supportive.  The growth of the Angel sector is highly additive to this.  The next challenge is ensuring more company scale up.

The next AiMC event is on 10th November 2016.  For information on this and future events, both pitchers and punters should visit:  http://www.angelsinmedcity.org.uk/

Follow AiMC on Twitter at @AngelsInMedCity