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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 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.



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 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

The UK BioIndustry Association ‘Celebrating UK Bioscience’ campaign highlights the impact that the UK bioscience industry makes on delivering ground-breaking treatments to patients. The state-of-the-art Cancer Research UK – MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL) is an innovative collaboration between charity Cancer Research UK and BIA member MedImmune, established to accelerate the translation of research into potential new drugs. Find out more below.

Cancer starts when cells change abnormally. Gene changes cause a cell or cells to begin to grow and multiply too much, which can lead to the formation of a tumour. One in two people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. There are over 200 different types of cancer and many different approaches to treatment.


In September 2015, a new laboratory was opened in Cambridge to focus on the discovery and development of novel biologic cancer treatments and diagnostics. The state-of-the-art Cancer Research UK- MedImmune Alliance Laboratory (CMAL) is an innovative collaboration between charity Cancer Research UK and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca.

In this important partnership, scientists from both organisations work together in the laboratory and collaborate closely to share knowledge and expertise to accelerate the discovery and development of novel biologics to treat and diagnose cancer. The CRUK-MEDI Alliance Laboratory is focussing on rare and hard to treat cancers, including cervical, pancreatic and leukaemia.

cmal-graphicThe alliance brings together Cancer Research UK’s cancer biology expertise with MedImmune’s world-class human antibody drug discovery expertise. Cancer Research UK provided set up and operational funding for the laboratory as well as contributing a portfolio of novel drug targets together with a team of scientists. MedImmune oversees the laboratory activities and provides access to its human antibody phage display libraries and established antibody engineering technologies.

Phage display allows researchers to quickly scan through millions upon millions of randomly generated antibodies (a special type of protein normally produced by our immune cells) to find ones that recognise important molecules involved in cancer or other diseases. First developed in the 1980s by Cambridge scientists, phage display is an immensely powerful research tool that has already led to the discovery of a ground breaking treatment for auto-immune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease called adalimumab.

The CRUK-MEDI Alliance Laboratory will accelerate the translation of research into potential new drugs. Opened in 2015, the lab is on track to have its first candidate ready for clinical trials in 2019.

Watch our video and hear more about the Alliance Lab and from Tony Selman, patient and Cancer Research UK ambassador.

You can also download our accompanying infographic here.

VisionContinuing our February focus on the BIA’s eight Advisory Committees, ahead of our second Committee Summit later this month, today we take a look at how the People and Communications Advisory Committees are helping to drive the talent agenda.

At the inaugural BIA Committee Summit in April 2015, the BIA launched its Vision for the UK Life Sciences Sector in 2025 outlining an ambitious vision to build the third global biotech cluster behind global leaders, the US heavyweights of Massachusetts and California.

The provision and cultivation of industry talent is key to achieving this vision and was identified as one of 10 themes to drive the change needed over the next decade to install the UK as the third global biotech cluster. If we are to reach this goal, the sector will need at least 130 extra clinical stage management teams and will need yet more talent in other health innovation and support sectors. That talent needs to be more ambitious, multi-skilled and have the right leadership behaviours to drive growth and global success.

With expertise from HR professionals across the biotech sector, tackling the industry’s talent agenda and the challenges laid out in the vision document is an important focus for the BIA’s People Advisory Committee (PAC). Key Committee members sought feedback on some of these challenges as part of a session at last year’s UK Bioscience Forum in October, with discussions around mentoring and nurturing the next generation of biotech talent in the UK. This focus will continue into 2016 with direct input into a document that is part of the BIA’s Celebrate activity that will signpost mentoring and personnel development opportunities that exist for those working in the sector. The project will also involve the Communications Advisory Committee (CAC) who will provide support and advice.

This celebration of current UK bioscience talent is a continuation of recent BIA activity celebrating the UK’s vibrant sector, including the publication of a report back in June 2015. Listed as another of the 10 themes for change, celebrating sector success was identified as an important driver in achieving our vision for 2025.

The UK bioscience sector continually produces great success stories around scientific discovery and financial successes alongside amazing patient stories that demonstrate the human impact of the sector but they remain under-sung. To mobilise for change, we need to celebrate our success more, champion the sector internationally and create the positive momentum to make our vision reality. Acting as a critical friend on BIA communications activities, CAC members will continue to input to the Celebrate project in 2016, alongside other BIA campaigns and publications. With an extensive network of communications expertise, Committee members can help to amplify the profile of BIA campaigns and provide a diverse source of contacts from across the industry for comment.

Keen to learn more? Then do come along to the Committee Summit on 25 February and learn more about the work of PAC and CAC alongside the six other areas of focus from our Advisory Groups – Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine, Finance and Tax, Intellectual Property, Manufacturing, Regulatory Affairs and Synthetic Biology. Registration closes this Friday.

Sunday Politics4A short note from me this week as policy matters wind down for the festive period. Following November’s Spending Review, I featured on the BBC Sunday Politics show yesterday on the impact of the CSR on the sector. The changing environment at Innovate UK and what the “loans not grants” agenda means in practice is our top policy concern at present and one where we will be communicating on more broadly in the New Year. The Biomedical Catalyst is successful in leveraging private sector investment, and any new financial products developed by Innovate UK must work for business. The devil will be in the detail so for example, any loan product must not impinge on a company’s ability to grow and seek continued investment. If you’re interested in more, you can catch up on the show here – skip to 56 minutes in for the feature.

Last week the BIA inputted to the Treasury’s consultation on revisions to the Patent Box. As per the previous briefing note we published, this exercise really is about transposing new international rules into UK legislation. The Patent Box tax relief will still remain under the new scheme but in the future companies will need to demonstrate the link between the investment made in R&D in the UK and the income created from that to obtain the relief. In our response we emphasise the need for flexibility to comply with the new rules, the need for effective engagement for SMEs with HMRC and that the government ensures that its implementation of new international rules alongside that of other countries ensures that the UK’s Patent Box remains internationally competitive.

Following Professor Dame Sally Davies’ decision to step back from the day to day leadership role for Research and Development in the Department of Health, last week Professor Chris Whitty was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser, with the Research and Development Portfolio for the DH. Congratulations to Professor Whitty will take up his new post during December, reporting to Sally Davies the Chief Medical Officer who remains in post.

Finally, a note that as we begin the wind down to the festive period, next week will be the last Newscast of 2015.



BillCastellEarlier this year, Wellcome Trust Chairman Sir William Castell received the BIA Lifetime Achievement Award, recognising his outstanding contribution to the life sciences sector. To further commemorate and celebrate this, Bill delivered the BIA’s Annual Lecture last week. Louise Wren, a Policy Adviser at the Wellcome Trust, reflects on the lecture and a growing push to transform the UK’s innovation ecosystem.

Last week, a crowd spanning industry and academia gathered at the Wellcome Trust to hear William (Bill) Castell’s 2015 BIA Annual Lecture. Bill was perfectly placed to deliver this. He’s done much to support the UK bioscience, as have the BIA, a trade association representing Britain’s biotech sector with a membership ranging from university spin outs to multinational pharma companies.

Bill spoke about the UK’s research excellence. He said he felt lucky to work in healthcare because, if you’re successful, you can “improve the lot of humankind”. He reflected on his career spent pursuing technology platforms, noting the importance of learning from mistakes and having fun along the way. And while there is much to take pride in — including Britain’s world-class science, skills development in institutes and clusters, better commissioning across the NHS, and a growing respect for the UK’s capabilities — there are a number of barriers we must address. These include access to long-term capital, developing infrastructure to support our leading science clusters, and ensuring that university Technology Transfer Offices don’t put too much focus on generating royalties.

Some of these issues are also reflected in a Trust-commissioned analysis of the UK’s innovation ecosystem, carried out last year as part of an internal review of our intellectual property policy. In late 2014, we published a briefing which gave an overview of the findings and outlined four blocks to the effective commercialisation of life sciences research. In line with Bill’s views, these range from an academic culture that doesn’t facilitate translation, Technology Transfer Offices that fail to meet the needs of both industry and academia, a lack of funding and support for concept testing, and insufficient long-term investment to underpin commercialisation.

Over the last few months, we’ve discussed and debated our review with a wide-range of stakeholders from different sectors. While the issues it describes are not new, it’s clear that there is a real desire to address them once and for all, and make the UK one of the best places in the world to deliver ‘bench to bedside’ biomedical research. We were particularly interested in the BIA’s vision for the UK life sciences sector in 2025, published in April 2015. Although it focuses on unlocking the potential of the biotech industry, its 10 recommendations have strong synergies with our own and it charts a course that could cement this country as a world-leading biomedical cluster.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with partners, including the BIA, to identify how we might work together to unlock barriers to translation. Yesterday, Professor Stephen Caddick joined the Trust as our new Director of Innovations and will further galvanize this. We’re also very pleased to be supporting the Office for Life Sciences’ Accelerated Access Review which aims to tackle a complex piece of the puzzle: opening up the NHS to innovative medicines and technologies.

With a collaborative push, we’re hopeful that we can challenge the widely-held belief that the UK only excels at basic science and not commercialisation, and ultimately make sure that people benefit from research discoveries as quickly as possible.

Blog originally posted by the Wellcome Trust