2015 – Another GREAT year for UK life science progress

About this time last year, I penned a blog entitled “Great Expectations for UK Health and Life Sciences”, which was a bit of a retrospective of 2014 and a call to dare to live up to our ‘Great’ image.  Well 2015 did nothing to diminish the continuing progress of the UK health and life science sector.  A few months ago the UK BioIndustry Association set out a vision for the UK to become the third super cluster over the next 10 years, one that will rival Boston and San Francisco.  Personally, I would argue we are in many ways already there.

Public Markets and M&A – Though the London IPO window closed later in the year, temporarily thwarting the plans of companies like Acacia, it remained open long enough for others such as Liverpool’s RedX Pharma to list, as well as a new, unexpected and unusual twist with US concerns such as Verseon and Puretech choosing to list in the UK rather than at home.  Other UK companies including Summit and Adaptimmune continued to tread a well-worn path to the US IPO markets, along with GW Pharma choosing to dual list, and further value creation was demonstrated with acquisitions of UK companies, exemplified by the $675 million paid by Biogen for Convergence and the $400 million paid by Japan’s Sosei for Heptares.

Funding – Neil Woodford continued to change the UK funding landscape, with others joining in.  An Oxford-focused fund of £300 million was launched and the Government’s Catalyst grant funding of projects played a major role in helping a number of companies circumvent the usual so-called valley of death, though disappointingly that the scheme may go forward in the guise of loans.  The UK’s vibrant charity sector continued to play a stellar role.  For example, Wellcome committed to spending £5 billion over the next 5 years and Cancer Research UK launched a £100 million Grand Challenge Fund to tackle some of the biggest barriers in the cancer field.

Politics and the NHS – The May election delivered a Conservative majority that absolutely no one saw coming, with Labour suffering devastating results in Scotland by a massive swing to the SNP and the Liberals paying for their stint in the previous Coalition.  While the NHS continues to wrestle with major budgetary challenges, the government has pledged further investment of an extra £8 billion by 2020.  Significant efforts are underway to realise the vast economic opportunity that the NHS represents for the UK as a “living lab” for global tech companies via a series of NHS ‘test beds’, and the Early Access to Medicines Scheme to help the NHS become a preferred venue for personalised medicine and digital health.

Government Impact – The government continues to place some fairly major bets on the life sciences in addition to investing in innovation with the Catalyst scheme.  2015 saw government initiate global fights against antimicrobial resistance with the Fleming Fund to fight drug resistant infections, David Cameron’s £300 million Dementia Initiative backed up by a further £150 million for a new UK dementia institute, and plans announced at year’s end to set up a £1 billion Ross Fund against malaria.  The landmark 100,000 Genomes Project run by Genomics England saw a further commitment of £375 million late in the year while other so-called Superlabs such as the UK BioBank and the new Crick Centre continued to develop and flourish.  The UK parliament also took the bold step of voting for mitochondrial transfer with other countries now looking to follow the UK’s example in making the so-called “three-parent embryo” a reality.

GREATness – The UK continued to justify its “Great” tag.  London regained its status as the world’s leading global financial centre and the UK nabbed the top spot in the global rankings of life science universities (Oxford) along with a staggering 34 universities being ranked overall in the top 200 globally – all from a country the size of New England adding further grist for being the third global life science super cluster.  Perhaps more whimsically, though nevertheless important in their own right, the UK was seen to have the best healthcare system in the world as judged by the US Commonwealth Institute and also was judged the best in the world for its end-of-life care.  Oh and London was also voted the favourite global city for the super rich!

Influencers – Three Brits were recognised at the start of 2015 by Fierce as the “25 most influential people in biopharma” for the year – Neil Woodford (the UK’s leading investor in the life sciences), George Freeman (the UK’s Life Science Minister) and Hans Bishop (CEO of Juno Therapeutics).  In addition, three of the Fierce “top 12 most influential women in the industry” were Brits – Annalisa Jenkins (CEO of Dimension Therapeutics and a BELS Advisory Council member), Emma Walmsley (Head of GSK Consumer Health) and Denise Scots-Knight (CEO of Mereo BioPharma).

Onto 2016 – Though there are certainly storm clouds mounting, particularly in terms of reimbursement catalysed by the Martin Shkreli and other inflammatory price hikes, the clamour for value-based pricing will continue to grow and the UK’s NICE will continue to be very much a thought leader.  While we can never afford to sit on our laurels and we still have to continue adjusting certain elements of our culture, the future looks quite bright.

BELS – Finally, BELS made good progress in 2015.  Our first event, the Oxford Alumni Summit, was an important success as it verified there is an appetite with our expats and other overseas alumni to strengthen engagement with the UK health and life sciences which will lead to tangible outcomes for our sector.  Having demonstrated this, BELS is taking steps to serve as a further catalyst and special feature of the UK health and life sciences sector at home and abroad.  We hope you will join us as members!

A great 2016 to everyone and for BELS!

Nigel Gaymond, BELS Founder and Chairman

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *