Daring to be great as we face Brexit

British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS) is engaging with British-trained health and life science leaders around the globe Brexit London In pursuit of greatness

With major changes afoot impacting our laws, regulations, trade and talent, discussions at the Summit will centre on the UK in a post-Brexit world and the significant work underway to position our sector as a centre of scientific excellence that attracts top talent and is less insular, more outward facing, a hotbed of healthcare innovation, with rich patient data, acting as a testbed for earlier adoption.

We had hoped the UK would be ready to share a vision for its health & life science sector with the BELS community in late 2017, but negotiations have dragged on longer than we could have anticipated.

Brexit proceeds in earnest

In March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May finally signed the letter that triggered Article 50, formally starting the process that will lead to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. To some it seems to be taking place long after the historic vote, however the delay bought valuable time for our civil servants to prepare for what will be a fraught period of negotiation. Both sides have much to lose in this process but equally much to gain. Rhetoric on the EU front has varied widely from Jean-Claude Juncker’s hard-line stances to olive branches from EU members such as the German Finance Minister’s assertion that London should remain Europe’s financial centre, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator insisting he is determined to see a trade deal secured with the UK as soon as possible, and the Dutch calling for a unique and far-reaching trade agreement with Britain.

Our expectation is that cool heads and pragmatism will prevail. For the UK, the stakes are certainly high. Some Remainers retain a bearish outlook on the situation. Some pro-Brexit hardliners hold extreme stances on issues such as immigration; meanwhile there are increasing calls in the EU for better and fairer functioning of the free movement system. And we pragmatists believe that members of the EU have too much at stake to be dogmatic about making the UK suffer for leaving the EU, be it matters surrounding defence, where the UK plays such a major role, or trade where the UK has been an important partner to many for centuries.

Ahead of last year’s vote, the UK life science sector lobbied hard that it was better to Remain given all the risks associated with a messy divorce. After the vote, with an eye toward business prosperity, the sector swiftly pivoted to seek the undoubted opportunities that could flow from Brexit while ensuring that we remain a talent magnet to retain our position of scientific excellence. Judging by recent commentaries, we see a leap in confidence about the post-Brexit prospects for our industry. And, at the moment, the financial markets seem to be fairly calm about Brexit, perhaps because it has already been priced into the equation, particularly through the plummeting of the pound.

Poised for growth

Today’s optimism for the sector stems from an increasingly interventionist government that has the life sciences squarely in its crosshairs to support growth, global leadership and trade. Add into the mix a relaxation of some of the more cumbersome EU state aid rules and regulatory hurdles, and one can envisage an increasingly burgeoning global hub on a growth track to complement those in Silicon Valley and Boston.

Meanwhile, the US faces some dark clouds with the new administration, though it seems unfathomable that Donald Trump will achieve his proposed 20% cut in NIH funding given its important role in enabling US dominance of our industry. Although checks and balances built into the US political system should protect it from itself, this may represent a golden opportunity for the UK to leverage its impending newfound freedom with more flexible policies that can enable our industry to operate in the way that countries such as Singapore do.

While EU funding of UK science has been important to UK researchers (10% of the total into UK universities in 2013), Theresa May has stressed repeatedly that maintaining the UK’s scientific prowess is a high priority. This has been backed up by the autumn 2017 announcement of the  industrial strategy which highly prioritises the health and life science sector with plans to fund research to boost the UK economy, and the November 2016 launch of a new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund with an extra £4.7 billion for applied research to be delivered in rising sums over the next four years. This represents a 23% increase in government R&D spending, the biggest rise since 1979. Building on this, in November 2017 government specified its intention to boost public spending on R&D further to £12.5 billion in 2021–22, an increase of £500 million on what is planned for the year before.

Better joined up

To better coordinate our research and innovation infrastructure, the six Medical Research Councils are being reorganised into one body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The innovation agency, Innovate UK, is becoming part of this single entity to help ensure that research with economic potential is commercialised. Sir Mark Walport willbecome UKRI’s new director in 2018, having previously led the Wellcome Trust and more recently acting as the government’s chief science adviser.

Patrick Valance, GSK’s ex-president of R&D, and Andrew Witty, GSK’s ex-CEO, have both agreed to accept governmental roles to help the UK at this challenging juncture.

  • Vallance is to replace Walport as the UK’s chief scientific adviser, advising the prime minister, her cabinet, and government departments dealing with the legal and regulatory consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Vallance will also lead the Government Office for Science which promotes the use of scientific evidence in policymaking across government.
  • Witty will lead the Accelerated Access Collaborative, a new fast-track route into the NHS intending to speed availability of select breakthrough medicines and technologies to patients by four years.

Strengthening connections with our global influencers

Wherever we live, in the UK or abroad, we are all part of a special United Kingdom of health and life scientists working to improve the health of patients around the world.

Never has there been a time when we needed to work more collaboratively. British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS) is playing an important role in strengthening connections with British-trained life scientists around the globe who are well disposed towards the UK. That is why we give this community of influencers a steady diet of UK health and life sciences news throughout the year. Monthly editions of BELS Brief Clips have proven to be hugely popular with members of the BELS community as they provide an efficient mechanism for keeping up with developments across this UK sector.

Our plans call for face-to-face engagement at the BELS Summit in London next year, kindly hosted by leading UK law firm Simmons & Simmons and by the global powerhouse Bloomberg. In addition to bringing attendees up to speed on some of the underlying strategies in the UK supporting critical, cutting-edge programmes and initiatives underway throughout the UK, we will devote one day to discussing how our sector (e.g. regulation, funding, finance, talent, etc.) will look in a post-Brexit world.

Invitations will be issued when there is greater clarity on Brexit and the way forward for our sector. We look forward to seeing many of you there!  In the meantime, we will continue disseminating news, conducting research to feed into policy and strategies for UK organisations, fulfill requests for connections, and seeking ways to strengthen our United Kingdom of health and life science leaders.

Supporting the work of BELS

To fund development and expansion of the BELS community and to strengthen relevant engagement activities, we rely on membership subscriptions and sponsoring partners. Such contributions cover production costs and efforts to expand the breadth and value of our work for the BELS community and the sector. If you’re an expat or other overseas alumni, please take a moment to join BELS today, if you haven’t already done so. And if you’re a UK organisation, please inquire about sponsorship and partnering opportunities.

As always, we welcome your comments, suggestions, support, referrals to others interested in BELS, requests for connections, and inquiries about how BELS can be of service.

Best regards,

Nigel Gaymond, Executive Chair & Founder, British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS)


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Beyond the Headlines—Spinning Brexit

spinning-top-imageIn competing for our attention, newspaper headlines and television sound bites assault our senses, beckoning us with sensational breaking stories. At times, the news can emanate from someone’s posturing (defined as ‘behaving in a way that is intended to impress or mislead’).  An extreme case in point is the interminable cycle of this US presidential election and the unavoidable barrage of posturing and propaganda designed to influence voters.

Meanwhile, lobbying for one’s interests is appropriate and necessary.  Representing the interests of their members and industries is the primary purpose of trade associations and public affairs departments at most organisations. Thus a certain level of posturing is to be expected as organisations and individuals (including our kids and spouses!) push their agendas.

However, whether by design or default, the headlines sometimes lead people to adopt false assumptions. In forming opinions and making decisions about the UK in the face of Brexit, it is particularly important to look beyond the grabbing headlines to the details of the stories, and to consider how much weight to give to the spin of lobbyists trying to strengthen their negotiating positions.

Some recent troubling headlines indicate that “Banks Could Start Leaving London before Christmas” due to Brexit.  The stories feature the head of the British Bankers’ Association, the sector’s main lobbying body.  He says that banks have already started contingency planning in light of Brexit and could move chunks of their business. Their hands are “quivering over the relocate button.”  Meanwhile, such contingency planning is prudent and rational, and such posturing with the use of scare tactics is a tactic employed by lobbying bodies trying to get reactions that would benefit them.

Other headlines relay that the UK is “Out of Top Five Investment Sites Post Brexit”.  EY issued its Global Capital Confidence Barometer report based on a survey of 1,700 executives in 45 countries in August and September which found them concerned about geopolitical issues, such as the rise of nationalist governments worldwide and currency fluctuations, that make cross-border M&A more difficult. Because of Brexit fears, the UK dropped out of the top five locations for investments for the first time in seven years, trailing the US, China, Germany, Canada and France.  In light of Brexit this is not wholly surprising and EY does go on to say that in the longer term it expects the UK to bounce back as a destination of choice for M&A.

Later this week we anticipate some confusing headlines about our GDP. The UK is set to show the amount by which it outperformed pre-referendum forecasts when official growth figures for the crucial third quarter are published by the Office for National Statistics, with most economists expecting to find the UK grew by a robust 0.3% in Q3, and some even suggesting 0.4% expansion.  Such figures would be in stark contrast to earlier predictions by forecasters of zero growth or outright contraction.

The BELS team will continue to study and analyse developments, looking beyond the sensational headlines, with our eyes and minds open, alert to the posturing by those advocating certain agendas. We are committed to ensuring that our expat and alumni life scientists across the globe get a clear and current view of developments in the UK health & life sciences and why the UK continues to represent the third global super cluster for our industry today.

Nigel Gaymond  Executive Chairman, British Expats in Life Sciences

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“Sparking” International Collaboration

new-sparkle-2-hiWhen we survey our lives retrospectively, we find instances of specific collisions with people that helped to shape us over time.  Marriages, friendships and business opportunities are born, kindled and flow from such fortuitous interactions.  These collisions hold the potential to “spark” great things.

Years ago a friend encouraged me to read The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell because he saw me particularly in Gladwell’s theory that little things can make a big difference.  Social epidemics (fashions, movements, diseases, etc.) reach a tipping point because of three agents of change—namely connectors, mavens and salespeople.

Salespeople are persuaders, and mavens are information specialists.  While I certainly possess elements of both these descriptors, it is the connector that fits squarely in my wheelhouse and is central to the ethos of British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS).  Gladwell’s connectors are community members who know large numbers of people and who habitually make introductions.  A connector is the social equivalent of a computer network hub, because it links up the community and brings it closer together.

BELS is a unique, strategic membership network of British expats and other overseas alumni of UK universities who hold influential leadership positions globally in the health and life sciences. The BELS team is strengthening connections between these expats/overseas alum and the UK health & life science scene by delivering insights, intelligence, introductions and interactions to benefit our Members, their organisations, our sector globally, and UK plc. Think of us a trusted portal and intermediary striving to spark international collaborations.

Just as a camp fire needs that initial kindling and a match to ignite it, BELS looks to inflame the “sparks” that stimulate great partnerships going forward.  Want to get involved? Visit www.BELSconnector.org where you can join BELS if you’re an expats/overseas alum life scientist. And organisations interested in becoming Supporters, please contact me. Everyone needs to get connected and engaged for those “sparks” to fly!

Nigel Gaymond
Executive Chairman
British Expats in Life Sciences

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Warming to the Notion of Brexit


I vividly remember waking up June 24th to the astounding news that the Leave vote had prevailed on the EU Referendum.  There followed some wailing and gnashing (in the interests of disclosure I had voted Remain) before my customary shrug of the shoulders as I soon came to terms with a changed reality.  To quote the brilliant and messianic coach of the New England Patriots (American football), Bill Belichick, “It is what it is”.  As is my wont, I quickly chose to start looking at the opportunities Brexit might represent.

In the recent aftermath of the vote, we restated the fundamental enduring strength of the UK health and life science scene and promised to monitor developments.  Several weeks on, we find that Brexit has become the mother of all excuses for many current business challenges, but we see no sign of an impending apocalypse.  While the jury is still out, the early returns on Theresa May are quite positive.  Where there was an expectation of a several-month process to elect a new leader, the gears turned at warp speed with May’s anointment as the new leader of her party and thus as the new Prime Minister.  She wasted no time setting out her stall with a series of Cabinet and Ministerial choices that were inclusive of all sides of the Brexit debate (Leave, Remain and Ambivalent), swift in excising elements of the old regime (George Osborne, Michael Gove, etc.) and almost counter-intuitive (Boris Johnson).

Key Ministries for the Life Sciences

  • Jeremy Hunt remains as Secretary of State for Health; and two key Permanent Undersecretaries tending to the life sciences are Lord Prior (life science industry strategy, accelerated access, a successful Brexit, biopharma/medtech) and Nicola Blackwood (genomics, data and digital health, emerging healthtech).
  • Greg Clark, a former Science Minister, has become the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS); and Jo Johnson is serving as Minister for Universities and Science which includes the life science industry strategy.
  • The loss of George Freeman MP as the Life Sciences Minister may hurt from a PR point of view globally since a dedicated Minister for Life Sciences was such a unique position on the world stage. However, his former brief has been divvied up between other able ministers, notably Prior, Blackwood and Johnson, while Freeman has been seemingly elevated to a major policy position with the Cabinet Office which could end up being a good thing for the industry in terms of representing our agenda.

Continued Concerns
Since the June referendum, the scientific community continues to worry about the impact of Brexit, particularly in terms of how European funding will be impacted.  There have been concerns expressed over future funding and collaborations with other European groups coming under threat, though this is still largely anecdotal to date.  UK academics have presented their asks to the government on issues such as mobility, collaboration, resources and regulation, with a plea that they they safeguard UK assets, ensure that overseas talent can remain here in the UK and that UK talent can continue to work in the EU, and allocate funding to promote international collaboration.

Good News
Contrary to the negative rhetoric of the Remain side before the Referendum, there has been a slew of positive developments.

  • GSK announced a further £275 million investment in the UK
  • AstraZeneca opined that it was “harder to find a better place in the world” for research
  • Siemens announced it was maintaining its major presence in the UK
  • The Deutche Bourse / London Stock Exchange merger went ahead
  • Wells Fargo announced a £300 million investment in its new European HQ in the UK
  • Japan’s SoftBank forked over £24.3.billion to acquire ARM
  • UK stocks became the best performers in Europe
  • UK exports have been growing at a world leading pace for the first time in a decade helped by the falling pound (probably needing a correction anyway) which has also resulted in a surge in tourism to the UK
  • Startups have been launching at a higher rate than before the Referendum
  • And there seems to be great interest from a number of countries across the globe in lining up trade deals with the UK after having endured the protectionist and concensus-driven approaches of the EU.

What’s Next?
Notwithstanding that there will be some fallout from leaving the EU, the reality is that the UK will remain an EU Member for at least two plus years from when Article 50 is enacted, so in the near term there will be a certain sense of business as usual.  Going forward, the downsides of reduced EU access may well be offset by the freedoms to set our own financial rules and regain sovereign control of government grant-making with our own taxes.  The UK may be able to escape the shackles of grim directives such as the Clinical Trials Directive, the Working Time Directive, lax EU medical language requirements and poor standards for clinical instruments, while also having the freedom to recruit the finest minds across the planet.

The gloom that gripped me briefly upon learning the result of the Referendum has dissipated, as befits a person for whom the glass is typically half full.  We will continue to monitor developments and keep the BELS community apprised, but from our vantage point in London, we remain extremely bullish about the UK itself and the life science scene here specifically.

Nigel Gaymond
Executive Chairman, British Expats in Life Sciences

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The Sky is Not Falling after the Brexit Vote

Chicken licken imageVolatility in global markets continues with selloffs, recoveries, gains, losses, sterling is weak… Successful investors see opportunities in the face of market volatility.

Meanwhile, most of us in the health and life science sector around the world are focused on the work underpinning the fundamentals that build value.

Brexit will be sorted eventually. Some things will change, many will remain the same. What will not waver is our laser-focus on moving this sector forward. We see continued opportunities throughout the health and life sciences here in the UK with a slew of initiatives underway and companies positioned for growth.  Scientists and business executives are continuing to plow ahead.

Since the Brexit vote on June 23, here’s a sampling of UK life science news items posted on BELSconnector.org:

  • NHS England and PTC reach a ground-breaking agreement on Duchenne drug
  • NICE backs Pfizer’s Bosulif for CML, and Gerring’s Firmagon for advanced hormone-dependent prostate and spinal metastases cancer
  • NICE published new quality standards to speed cancer diagnoses
  • AZ gave rights to skin disease drugs to LEO Pharma
  • 42% of the UK public is willing to pay more tax for the NHS
  • UK hospital partnering with Google’s DeepMind to use AI in scanning for eye diseases,
  • Using a leukaemia drug shows promise in ovarian cancer (CRUK study run by the Institute of Cancer Research in London)
  • Owlstone Medical (Oxford) is developing a breathalyzer as diagnostic in cancer, inflammatory and infectious disease
  • Storm Therapeutics raises £12m to develop novel cancer therapeutics
  • GW Pharma’s Epidiolex hits targets in rare epilepsy trial
  • Royal College of GPs picks physical activity and lifestyle as clinical priorities

We’ll keep an eye on developments and keep you apprised.

Nigel Gaymond

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After Brexit, Our Times They Are a Changin’

In the relative blink of an eye, certain events in the past few days have highlighted two clear home truths: the disaffection of the voting UK majority with their political leaders and the uncertainty of where our toils in the life sciences will lead us as we move through the lengthy drug approval process.

First, the Brexit vote, which dominates the airwaves… It was rather surreal to awaken the day after the referendum to learn of the surprising result.  The markets predictably reacted with rabid alarm, though markedly rebounding shortly thereafter.  This will likely be the general state of affairs in the coming months as we first deal with leadership vacuums in both of the major parties and then work out the way forward in lengthy negotiations with Europe.  During that time we can expect to be deluged with possible scenarios that will cause short-term confusion.

The BELS team will continue to monitor developments and comment on what the future impacts may be.  For now, here’s what we do know.

  • It will be business as usual for some time with no change to the current situation in terms of how things stand.
  • We are in the EU for at least 2+ years as the negotiations commence with potential scenarios ranging from a Norwegian solution to the unlikely, ill-advised absolute freezing out of the UK.
  • In the meantime, the life sciences remains a high priority for the UK government, industry, academia and patients.
  • The UK has a relatively sophisticated array of regulations, fiscal policy, and patent protections that support and enable drug discovery and development.
  • The UK is a world leader in the health and life science sector with much to justify our continued “Great” tag, including our heritage of pioneering research, our strong science base, world-leading universities producing top-tier scientific talent that collaborates globally, the NHS, the world-renowned Wellcome Trust and a slew of other medical charities, strong R&D investment, experienced management teams, well-funded innovative companies positioned for growth, more novel therapeutics in the pipeline than any other country in Europe, a bevy of public and private initiatives focused on medical innovation that are well underway, and much more.

And finally, recent results registered in our sector…  In the past few days, two of our flagship companies have delivered contrasting news releases.

  • On the disappointing side, Circassia reported an unprecedented placebo effect in a late-stage trial of a drug to treat severe allergic reactions to cats, thus undoing a dramatic 60% improvement in the symptoms of all the patients with a very good safety profile.  As is their wont, the markets reacted unfavourably to this news with a 65% drop in the share price.
  • Shortly thereafter, on the flip side of the coin, came the positive news of GW Pharma shares surging upon stellar results from a Phase III trial of their epilepsy drug.

In closing, neither our country nor our industry are strangers to challenge and change. We’re accustomed to keeping a stiff upper lip while we take the good with the bad; facing challenges head on; and doing what we can to control our own destinies. Collectively we will put our shoulders to the proverbial wheel, adapt, adjust and continue to thrive!

Stay tuned!

Nigel Gaymond

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BELS, Brexit, NICE

As we enter the summer (at least in the Northern Hemisphere!) after the annual BIO meeting in San Francisco and ahead of the impending Brexit vote, we wanted to send out greetings to the BELS community.  We are now actively commencing the BELS membership drive so please do visit our membership pages and join this formidable community.  Membership can bring a whole host of benefits including keeping you up to speed with UK developments, building bridges to leading UK assets, and being part of an exclusive, influential network managed by a trusted intermediary.  My last blog back in April emphasised what a treasure trove The BELS List represents.  It is truly a unique and powerful resource which justifies membership, be it as an individual Primary Member or with organisational support as an Affiliate.

On the news front, I highlight a few noteworthy developments of late.

  • Nearly a year into its existence, the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme is helping to bring in a stream of new innovative technologies and services to the NHS as it seeks to create the conditions and culture changes needed for faster adoption. Further, a recently announced Innovation and Technology Tariff category is to allow NHS England to ‘bulk buy’ innovations nationally instead of locally and guarantee automatic reimbursement when an approved innovation is used.
  • AstraZeneca announced a broad initiative to embed genomics across its R&D platform with a goal of sequencing two million genomes at its in-house Centre for Genomics Research.
  • A trio of Oxford spinouts raised almost £37 million in a record round of fundraising for UK academic spinouts with OxStem, EvOx and Vaccitech all receiving money from Oxford Sciences, a £300 million fund set up last year with backing from several high-profile City investors.
  • Neil Woodford has invested a further £12 million in Imperial Innovations, upping his stake to 21%.
  • NHS England announced a £15 million investment to support a range of measures aiming to speed up the detection of cancer, including the creation of a National Diagnostics Capacity Fund to test initiatives to increase capacity and productivity of diagnostic services.
  • And Jim O’Neill unveiled his final AMR plan of attack with recommendations that pharma firms are given a $1 billion bonus for each new antibiotic they discover as part of an attack on antimicrobial resistance.

Brexit continues to dominate the airwaves in the UK.  While BELS will not make any political pronouncements as a general ethos and we all have our own opinions on the matter, it is important to note that the industry itself in the UK and the broader scientific community seem pretty much aligned against Brexit, warning that it would bring uncertainty to the sector.  No matter which side of the argument on which one sits, inherent difficulties with this debate involve many unknowns and speculations wrought by the fact this would be the first time that a member state would have left the EU.  The June 23 vote promises to be momentous no matter which way it goes.

Finally, on another sensitive subject, NICE has come into the spotlight once again as it takes on the mantle previously held by the Cancer Drugs Fund.  NICE suffers often from a perspective that it turns down so many products that it is an enemy of innovation. However, Nice’s official statistics tell a different story.

  • From March 2000 to the end of April 2016, NICE published 217 single technology appraisals and 172 multiple technology appraisals; 389 appraisals in total, containing 654 individual recommendations.
  • Overall, 81% of decisions made by NICE were ´recommended’ or ´optimised´.
  • On the cancer front, since 2000, when it started to produce cancer guidance, NICE has published 192 individual recommendations on cancer drugs in 140 technology appraisals.
  • Overall, 64% of all recommendations stated that the NHS should use these drugs in line with their marketing authorisation (‘recommended’), or in specific circumstances (‘optimised recommendation’, i.e., targeting treatments so patients who could clearly benefit can gain access to treatment).
  • Since March 2000, NICE has made 7 optimised recommendations for the use of anti-cancer drugs.
  • As we go to press with this blog, NICE just rushed through Bristol-Myers Squibb’s advanced melanoma immunotherapy combo Opdivo and Yervoy, an approval that was one of the fastest in NHS history.

While no agency can be perfect in everyone’s eyes, health technology assessments are here to stay in a world struggling to afford modern healthcare and NICE is very much seen as a source of best practice by many parts of the world which look to it for guidance.  NICE is thus, in some quarters, viewed as a UK asset.  The hope is that this will continue and that further dialogue will help to fine tune its processes and results.  Innovation is key to improving healthcare but cost will always be a factor and justification is therefore a mandatory consideration.

In closing, I hope you’ll heed the call to arms to join BELS now.  BELS encourages and enables the extraordinary British-trained talent base at home and abroad to strengthen connections to mutually benefit themselves, their organisations, and this important sector.  For this is very much a two-way street. The success of our expats and other overseas alumni reflects well on the UK, and equally, the strength of the UK health and life sciences can reflect well on our expats. With your support and involvement, BELS will better connect all parts of our great United Kingdom of Life Scientists so that together we can achieve more.

Best wishes for a great start to summer (in the Northern Hemisphere!)

Nigel Gaymond

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The BELS List: A treasure trove of talented life scientists

We have recently devoted significant time to completely updating The BELS List, comprised of some 2800 UK expats and overseas alumni of UK universities who are life science leaders working outside the UK. As we launch the BELS membership drive, we certainly welcome your suggestions of individuals to add to the mix.


The chart above represents the professional functions of the 2,800 life science leaders on The BELS List, exemplifying the breadth of this unique community.  We cannot overstate the amazing power and influence of this collection of individuals.

  • Some 90% of them having ascended to powerful and influential positions within the global life sciences outside the UK in 1,300 organisations across 43 countries.
  • They hold over 1,000 board seats.
  • More than 500 of them occupy C-suite positions.

We view this constellation as a powerful extension of the UK health and life science sector, a recognition of the immense talent trained in no small part by the UK’s world class universities, 32 of which rank among the world’s top 200 universities. Strengthening connections between this overseas talent base—to each other and to the UK health and life sciences—is central the mission of BELS.

BELS Member benefits  involve access to insights, intelligence, introductions and interactions, offering mutual advantages for our Members and the UK health and life sciences sectors

We hope you will join BELS today!

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Our new URL: BELSconnector.org

While we started the online presence of British Expats in Life Sciences as BELSgroup.com, it has become increasingly clear that forging stronger connectivity is core to what BELS is all about. We have therefore made a decision to reflect this in our communications, including:

  • BELSconnector.org, our new URL which incorporates connector and .org to better reflect our community-building ethos
  • The BELS Connector, our new upcoming newsletter

BELS is mobilising the amazing talent base of health and life science leaders who are British expats or other alumni of UK universities, strengthening engagement and fostering connections, to mutually benefit them, their organisations and UK plc by providing insights, intelligence, introductions, interactions.  We hope you will:

  • Bookmark BELSconnector.org and visit the site to stay current on news and developments in the UK health & life science sector and within the BELS community
  • Ensure that your spam filters will allow you to receive email from BELSconnector.org
  • Join BELS, a secure, strategic professional network where members have been vetted and affiliates respect boundaries managed by BELS as a trusted intermediary

Best regards

Nigel Gaymond

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Making strides in challenging times – Q1 2016

It’s been a welcome reassurance for this inveterate UK cheerleader that we continue to navigate assorted speed bumps and are productively staying the course with our life science strategy.  In 2015, this UK sector continued its renaissance with £1.26 billion being raised on the UK stock market, the highest figure in more than a decade after the nuclear winter that started this decade.  A further £708 million was raised through private investment, nearly double over the previous year.

While some funds may have been shifted to healthcare as a defensive move, much of the action here is being driven by greater innovation and a growing movement in the academic sector to set up businesses and raise capital.  The quality of our news flow in this first quarter of 2016 is testament to this.  For example:

One of the key rationales for BELS is to encourage and enable additional momentum in the sector by reengaging with our life science diaspora who exert so much influence on global decision making.  The need for this was brought home to me starkly by an expat CEO (who shall remain anonymous) who shared feedback from a meeting in the US at which assorted advisers pondered potential locations for an overseas investment.  When the UK was brought up some in the room roundly trashed the UK for a host of reasons, many of them spurious and with a historical perspective rather than a current one.  The CEO’s instinct was to defend the UK but realised he could not do so because he really was not ‘up to speed’ with where things stood.

Our guess is that few of our expats are totally up to speed on current developments in the UK and certainly the feedback we got from last year’s Alumni Summit confirmed that impression.  Rest assured we will continue to rectify this situation and provide the community with timely intelligence and business rationales for why the UK should be on everyone’s radar these days!

Nigel Gaymond, BELS Founder & Chairman.

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The Alumni Summit: Six Months On

By all accounts, BELS inaugural event in the UK, The Alumni Summit, held July 9-10 2015 in Oxford, was a resounding success. Attendees from the UK and abroad offered extremely positive feedback.

We checked in with the expats six months on and found that exciting progress is being delivered, discussions are happening, and projects are being planned.  And we expect much more to come because the UK is closer to top-of-mind for the expats/overseas alumni who attended.

Feedback from The Summit attendees includes:

  • The networking was of excellent calibre with UK-based and expat/overseas alum decision-makers connecting on site during the event.
  • Both the expats/overseas alum and the UK-based attendees talked to people they normally wouldn’t.
  • The expats/overseas alum left feeling much better informed about the state of affairs in the UK, wanting to know more and to do more with us, and excited about the possibilities that can come from so many new connections in key markets.
  • The Summit exceeded their expectations; they would attend future BELS events and recommend such to their peers.
  • Attendees believe there is potential value for the UK in engaging with its expats, and for the expats themselves in engaging more with the UK health and life science sector.
  • Six months following the event, concrete economic benefit to the UK has been achieved as a direct result of this interaction with our expats/overseas alum, and discussions related to an array of future projects are underway. Specifics will be reported in due course.

The vast majority of attendees report:

  • having an improved opinion of the UK health and life science sector
  • being better informed about the health and life science sector in the UK
  • feeling better connected to this UK sector
  • believing BELS can be a game changer for the UK

BELS is launching a Membership Drive in early 2016. Delivering one to two events in 2016 is a very high priority.

Specific comments from attendees at the Alumni Summit:

“Hold more of these events so that connections made may be strengthened.”

“Maintain and develop this event.”

“I’ve already begun this process (strengthening connections) with introductions to possible collaborations regarding precision drug discovery approaches.”

“I’d like to see more meetings with opportunities to meet with UK government, companies, start-ups, entrepreneurs, scientists and academic institutions.”

“I found the idea that rather than competing with the USA in terms of therapeutic-focused biotechs the UK is instead focusing upon its strengths in the genetic technologies area. I found this both exciting and fascinating.”

“I was inspired to learn about ways in which the NHS sees itself as a catalyst for innovation.”

“I was positively surprised at how much the UK was doing particularly in big data and healthcare records. The US has a lot to learn from these efforts.”

“I really enjoyed the conference – I made some very helpful business connections.”

“The conference was very timely and I have had offers of collaborations and business advice already.”

“I think you brought together a really interesting group of people with a diverse but stimulating set of presentations.  I would be keen to attend any future event.”  

“It was great to see you in Oxford and congratulations on the conference which I think was a tremendous success.” 

“This was a fabulous event and a great format.  The panel discussions were extremely informative.” 

“The content of the meeting was thought provoking and provided a fascinating insight into how much things are changing within academic research community.”

“What a valuable experience – impressive energy and creativity in our Oxford community, both in ‘the locals’ as well as in the Oxford global diaspora.  I know there will be a great deal of interest in your work as well as in the potential business opportunities when we return to the Bay Area.”

“It was a terrific event. Great networking and I learned a tremendous amount.  I would be very interested in participating more in future.”

“It was a fantastic event and I have left thoroughly inspired.”

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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

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Brain drain or brain gain?

This year’s Nobel Prize announcements catalysed a knee jerk reaction from commentators, a lament that Brits were enjoying their success from other international venues rather than in the UK – yet another example of the classic “brain drain”. We would counter that such news should be viewed much more positively.

In a Daily Telegraph article (13 October 2015), Allister Heath reports that Angus Deaton, a Scottish-born economist at Princeton University in the US, won the Economics prize.  Heath also mentions that a winner of this year’s chemistry prize, the Swedish-born cancer specialist Tomas Lindahl, has been based in the UK since 1981. Thinking back to past Nobel laureates, the UK has attracted a fair share of talent to our shores from other countries, including the Russian scientists who developed graphene in Manchester.

While Heath points out that Deaton’s prize serves as a reminder of the UK’s enormous scientific and intellectual achievements, he also asserts that we need to up our game to be competitive, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree.  However, it is Heath’s closing remarks that rankle.

Britain’s best academics increasingly work in the US; the same is true of the UK’s best PhDs.  Britain is continuing to suffer from a scientific brain drain which shows no signs of reversing.  Even our best universities are continuing to fall behind: when it comes to research, institutions like Stanford in California, MIT or Harvard have become astonishingly successful.  The nexus between Stanford and Silicon Valley is a perfect case study in how business and academia should cooperate.  If we want to stay ahead, we urgently need to learn from the way things are done in the US.”

Yes and no… We should always look to learn from best practice around the globe, but we must also avoid the bad habit of allowing our opinions to become entrenched in dogma.  Take for instance the universal British gripe that our weather is awful.  Tell that to someone in Boston who shovelled over 100 inches of snow last winter and then had to endure the merciless humidity and mosquitoes of summer.  Twenty-five years of living away in the US certainly altered my perspective on the UK weather and gave me an appreciation for it upon my return.  It is SO much better than we tell ourselves!

The same could be said about our constant refrain about the brain drain. The optimist in me sees the bright side of migration as our scientists have moved around the globe fertilising our reputation as a life science leader.  Thousands of our expats have risen to powerful positions in the life science sector globally.  With our heritage of scientific achievement and a plethora of initiatives underway here, the UK is well positioned to lead global thinking in the health and life sciences, and is therefore poised to continue attracting interest from some of the world’s most creative minds as we move forward. While I can’t argue factually against Heath’s claim that our best academics and PhDs are “increasingly” working in the US, anecdotally we do see the UK attracting its share of such talent to our universities and industry.

In today’s global economy, migration is a fact of life, and we must use it to our best advantage.  The experiences and social contacts of expats who have migrated to other countries for work or study can be hugely valuable resources for the country of origin.  China and India have used this phenomenon to great effect.  Perhaps it is high time the UK did so too, by viewing our migrated talent in a different light, not as lost assets but rather as continuing sources of potential enrichment for the UK.

The vast majority of our highly skilled life scientists who have migrated are in the US. Meanwhile, the US is the prime foreign trade target for our life science sector.  Their good will should be seen to be an asset of the UK, with substantial value, and therefore worth nourishing.  British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS) is a network that has this premise in mind, pursuing a vision wherein we know our most talented life scientist expats and overseas alumni, and they know us. They feel well connected to the UK health and life science sector, and they want to stay engaged throughout their careers. 

To this end, Will Harvey, an Exeter University migration expert who sits on the BELS Advisory Council,  suggests, “The first step is to properly engage with our own talent abroad, recognising that this will help to attract them to keep abreast of activities here and mobilise them to consider using their global expertise and networks to benefit the UK. Second, continue taking steps to attract and retain the very best students and talent. And third, understand that our success and failure around exporting and importing talent in the global labour market are intricately entwined.”

Of course such engagement will only work if we offer a win-win, for both the UK and for the expats and other overseas alumni.  While they are predisposed to take notice of what’s happening here, they cannot make decisions that favour the UK without solid business reasons.  However, with better engagement, they can be equipped to serve as ambassadors, poised to spread the word and appropriately collaborate and conduct business with the UK to benefit themselves, their organisations and UK plc.  In this way, we can demonstrably turn the perceived brain drain into a brain gain for the UK.

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BELS Gathers Pace… & The Beat Goes On!

When we last wrote in July, we were heading to the Alumni Summit in Oxford, our first event in the UK and a major milestone for British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS).

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP

An impressive array of overseas alumni, most of them UK expats, gathered in glorious summer conditions at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.  The event brought together an audience mix considered to be quite different from the norm, with programme content that addressed key challenges across the health and life sciences spectrum. All attendees left the event vastly richer for the experience, validating our belief that such events should be repeated in the coming years in the UK as a way to re-engage and educate our global expats on developments back in the old country, and strengthen connections with them.  A few of the reactions to what went on:

“a remarkable mix of people….We need to find new ways to talk to each other and work together.  This has been a terrific way to start that dialogue.” Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford

 “It was inspiring to listen to so many innovators who were able to see the ‘bigger picture’ and make enormous leaps without a backward glance and hard not to come out uninfected!”  Dr. Sarah Blagden, University of Oxford Department of Oncology

“I think you brought together a really interesting group of people with a diverse but stimulating set of presentations.  I would be keen to attend any future event.”  Dan Mahony, Investment Manager, Polar Capital

“It was great to see you in Oxford and congratulations on the conference which I think was a tremendous success.”  Dr. Dominic Behan, CSO, Arena Pharmaceuticals

“This was a fabulous event and a great format.  The panel discussions were extremely informative.”  Dr. Eddie Blair, Managing Director, Integrated Medicines

“The content of the meeting was thought provoking and provided a fascinating insight into how much things are changing within academic research community.”  Dr. John Richards, VP Global Technical Development, The Medicines Company

“What a valuable experience – impressive energy and creativity in our Oxford community, both in ‘the locals’ as well as in the Oxford global diaspora.  I know there will be a great deal of interest in your work as well as in the potential business opportunities when we return to the Bay Area.”  Dr. Theresa Wright, Senior Medical Director, Genentech

“It was a terrific event. Great networking and I learned a tremendous amount.  I would be very interested in participating more in future.”  Dr. Rupert Vessey, SVP Translation, Celgene

We look forward to seeing many more of you at similar events in the future!

And the beat goes on with more good news for the UK life sciences…

Lest anyone think that I am a hopeless Pollyanna, data analysed by Silicon Valley Bank in its mid-year update highlights that the UK is at last earning a reputation for being a biotech finance centre in its own right.  SVB sees four distinct trends in healthcare investing for 2016.  It anticipates even more M&A activity, European biotech will receive more interest, there will be increased US investment in UK biotech, and the sector here will continue to be resilient to macroeconomic events.  Successful fundraising by UK concerns continues with Immunocore raising $320 million, Oxford Nanopore raising $108 million and Shield Therapeutics and Acacia announcing plans for a £110 million and £150 million IPOs respectively.  In addition to the $1.1 billion raised in the UK by venture capital-backed companies in the second quarter of 2015, overseas groups attracted to the London markets include the US’ Verseon and Puretech Ventures, along with Denmark’s UniBio.

Finally, a global study recently placed London as the world’s leading financial centre, wrestling the top spot from New York.

Polyanna I am not!  Keep checking the BELS website to keep abreast of recent news in UK health & life sciences sector.  The UK should be very much on the radar screen of you and your organisations.

Best regards and Happy Fall!

Nigel Gaymond

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There’s A LOT going on in the UK life sciences!

This week sees a major milestone for BELS with the Alumni Summit in Oxford at the Saïd Business School.  Part of our vision is that our talented life science expats and overseas alumni of UK institutions feel connected to the UK health and life sciences and want to stay engaged throughout their careers.  There are legions of such individuals around the globe who, with few exceptions, hold a special feeling for their roots.  The Alumni Summit is a first step in a reconnection we plan to build upon.

We have an exciting couple of days ahead of us and a fantastic programme in place chock full of leading lights, both from within the UK and from overseas.  I am particularly interested in hearing reactions from our overseas contingent to what they learn about UK developments.  And I feel certain that our overseas visitors will leave an impression on the UK contingent.  Look for a summation of the event in the near future and do check out the programme at www.alumnisummit.com/programme

It has been long recognised and perhaps bemoaned that there is a historical dearth of capital available in the UK for the life sciences, especially in comparison to the US.  Things do seem to be changing however with the Government’s Catalyst funding providing a huge boost for early endeavours along with a number of other recent developments that auger well for our sector.

Returning, for instance, to the site of this week’s Summit, a new fund has been raised to the tune of north of £300 million to support tech startups looking to spin out of the University of Oxford.  Oxford Sciences Innovation is a new company that is working in partnership with the University and its commercialisation arm, Isis Innovation.  Thus, Oxford follows Cambridge (Cambridge Innovation Capital) and Imperial College (Imperial Innovations) in establishing such funds, though Oxford’s fund will be much more university centric than the other two funds which have a wider focus.  The Cambridge fund can invest in other Cambridge area opportunities while the Imperial fund also invests in opportunities arising in the Golden Triangle (Oxford, Cambridge, London).

As is his wont, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also made a splash recently as he floated plans for a £10 billion fund to boost investment in the life sciences.  He called for a radical new approach to life sciences investment, which is needed if London’s capital markets are to be fully opened to the region’s biotech entrepreneurs.  The Mayor and MedCity, the capital’s version of the hugely successful Tech City, pulled together a meeting that included JP Morgan, Eli Lilly and Pfizer.  Time will tell if this can be realised, but the scale of ambition is exactly what the UK needs to play catch up with Boston, San Francisco and San Diego.

Another promising development is seen in the number of US businesses choosing to list in London rather than the US.  The Boston group, PureTech, chose to list in London because “it leads the world in the listed technology-transfer space”.  Similarly, California company Verseon shunned Nasdaq in favour of London’s AIM market, attracted by long-term investors such as Neil Woodford.  According to the UK BioIndustry Association, life science IPOs and follow-on offerings raised £1.25 billion in 2014.

The US listing process is still cumbersome and can cost 15-20 times more than a European listing.  In the UK, deal research can be carried out and AIM listing prospectuses do not have to be approved by the listing authority but by the NOMAD adviser.  Thus, the initial outlay and ongoing costs of staying listed are far more onerous in the US.  Clearly, there are still question marks on the relative values that companies can achieve on both markets, nevertheless a UK listing scenario should no longer be dismissed without some serious consideration.

Finally, I cannot end this blog without mentioning the launch in recent months of the industry-funded Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) which offers severely-ill patients the opportunity to try ground-breaking new medicines faster.  Overseen by the MHRA, and broadly similar to the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy Designation, this scheme increases the attractiveness of the UK environment, though questions remain about the lack of central funding for the scheme with the risk being borne by companies in terms of the upfront investment necessary.

There has been a slew of other positive developments in the UK so please do check in regularly to keep abreast of our news flow.  You may want to check out these recent items:

Using its specialised commissioning prioritisation process, NHS England approves AbbVie’s Duodopa for Parkinson’s disease; A collaboration of researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh and Imperial College London has found Gene Therapy Can Help Treat Cystic Fibrosis Patients;  UK leads EU in antibiotic diagnostics research;  Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster melanoma drug Opdivo has become the first approved PD-L1 inhibitor to launch in the UK;   Pfizer partners with NIHR to boosts UK R&D;  Hope for Alzheimer’s treatment as researchers find licensed drugs halt brain degeneration;   England first country to offer Meningitis B vacc programme;   Digital plans could see free wi-fi across NHSNew anti-malaria drug developed at Dundee University;   The surprising success of Britain’s university spin-outs Genetically engineered virus ‘cures’ patients of skin cancer;   Prostate cancer breakthrough as scientists crack genetic code behind nine in 10 tumours

There is an awful lot going on in the UK!

Best regards

Nigel Gaymond

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