What do Harry & Meghan have in common with BELS?

When I moved to the US over 30 years ago I was chasing a woman, though I assume most of my British-educated colleagues working outside the UK in the life sciences left to take up new jobs. Regardless, none of us kicked up quite the public storm that’s coming from Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back from royal life and move to North America.

What we do have in common with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is that, while we left to pursue new opportunities and adventures, our feelings of warmth toward the UK remain strong. As Prince Harry said a few days ago,

“The UK is my home and a place that I love. That will never change.”

Reactions to Harry and Meghan’s move have run the gamut, from feelings of betrayal to hopes of new doors opening for the UK and its businesses, and fantastic opportunities to strengthen its global reputation.

The informal ambassadorial roles the Sussexes will undoubtedly fill have huge potential to lift the UK’s prospects for tourism, trade, and international collaboration. This is how we see BELS (British Expats in Life Sciences)—as a lever to lift the prospects of UK life sciences.

Far from being “lost assets”, the BELS community includes thousands of informal ambassadors who are happy to fly the flag, honoured to help the UK, willing to serve in some way, which varies by individual.

The UK life sciences brand can be enhanced and expanded with help from the BELS community. Our British-educated life scientists working abroad are great examples of the UK’s scientific prowess, because they are part of it. Their schooling and, in most cases, their British upbringings created lifelong bonds to the UK. And as Prince Harry says, “That will never change.”

BELS has worked to identify, track, engage with, and nurture thousands of these “fans”, most of them important influencers within and beyond their own organisations, to keep them better informed and connected to the UK. The trick now is to get more folks in the UK taking action to access this golden goose.

Other enlightened countries—e.g., Ireland, India, Israel, China, Australia and New Zealand—are deriving enormous economic benefits from aptly accessing their talented diaspora.

All of us working in the life sciences who are British educated have much in common wherever we choose to live and work: warm feelings towards the UK, the talent to propel our sector forward, and the will to make a difference to the lives of patients.

Let’s make 2020 the year we make a difference together. Please get in touch!

Nigel Gaymond, Executive Chairman, British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS)

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Soft Power Can Deliver a Powerful Punch for UK Life Sciences

For the UK to fulfill its international aspirations in the life sciences, tapping into the soft power of its influential diaspora, including the 3,000+ life science leaders within the British Expats in Life Sciences (BELS) global community, should be a high priority for UK organisations across our sector—government, quasi-government orgs, industry, academia, charities, healthcare orgs, service providers, incubators, investors, etc.

Soft power is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. It is a power of appeal and attraction that can shape the preferences of others. As with other forms of power, soft power often plays a significant role in influencing international relations and trade. Consider the substantial economic benefits derived by other countries that aptly access their talented diaspora:  Ireland, India, Israel, China, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. Meanwhile, the UK languishes on this front.

Our soft power strengths can and should be used to ensure that the UK remains a world leader in the life sciences. Success in this arena is not just about achieving scientific breakthroughs or being recognized for such capabilities. In addition to establishing optimal business conditions, achieving our potential in the life science arena globally requires heavy doses of inward investment and lots of engaged global fans, both areas where BELS delivers impact.

Consider The Medicines Company, a major success story from which the UK has already derived sizeable income. The genesis of the UK’s involvement in the ongoing advancement of inclisiran stems from interactions between attendees at The Alumni Summit, a 2015 BELS event that drew graduates of Oxford region universities to catch up and connect with peers in the UK.

British-educated life scientists who are working abroad represent some of the best “sellers” of the UK’s scientific prowess—because they are part of it. And clearly we need their help, in light of Brexit-related challenges and a pressing need for more and better global marketing of our ever-evolving capabilities in the sector.

Surveys of BELS community members indicate a massive shortfall in the UK’s marketing of its life sciences on the global stage and a spotty narrative on its multitude of strengths, including the joined-up nature of the dialogue between government, academia and industry, which we believe surpasses any other nation.

BELS and our UK alumni working overseas are part of UK’s soft power. As such, our sector should prioritise activities that deliver engagement and tap into their influence within their orgs and beyond. BELS needs your support and your involvement as we work to mobilise this amazing overseas community.

Nigel Gaymond, BELS Executive Chairman

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Beyond BIO & Annual Assemblies—Targeting Decision Makers

As we head into one of the biggest bun fights of the year at the BIO convention in Philadelphia, hopes are high for new learning and links, seeing and being seen, and warming up or booking business. Attendance at BIO, BIO Europe, Medica, ASCO and the like is important to annual marketing efforts. But there’s a risk that too many rely too heavily on them to build their reach, reputation and business internationally.

To get noticed and build connections in targeted markets, you might also, or alternatively, “knock-on-doors” or issue press releases that may or may not get picked up by the trade press or, better yet, by major media outlets. While this can bear fruit, getting to decision makers in the US and elsewhere is challenging and expensive but critical.

Since my time leading the British Consular system’s efforts in the US on biotech, I’ve known that participants in this space should be international from the start, because good ideas and many customers (especially in science) know no boundaries, and competitors may well make productive collaborators.

It is not an idle boast that the BELS community covers a vast majority of important life science organisations across the globe.  Given their seniority, influence and warm feelings towards the UK, the BELS List is very much a golden goose. Spanning some 1300 organisations across 43 countries, it is a treasure trove of connections and receptive minds, and the BELS team serves as a connector to them.

We are also fertilising the ground for the UK by establishing trusted relationships and disseminating a popular news flow to position the UK as:

  • a global hub abuzz with scientific innovation and business productivity, and
  • the most influential life science cluster after Massachusetts and California

BELS is a real gem in the UK arsenal.  Support our efforts and work with us.

NOTE: BELS/British Expats in Life Sciences is an established, acknowledged, strategic community forging stronger ties between 3,000 highly-accomplished, influential, British-educated health and life science leaders working abroad and those in this important UK sector.

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When Uncertainty Abounds, Focus on FACTS

BELS Brexit Perspective, March 22, 2019

As we lurch onward in this Brexit purgatory, there is no end in sight to chaos, delays and uncertainty.  And our hard-earned international reputation for pragmatism and a functioning democracy is being mightily tested with our politicians seemingly paralyzed.

The UK has been successful for a long time largely because of our stability, freedoms and rule of law, all predicated on our extraordinary political traditions.  To risk harming our reputation for straight dealing and fair play and our respect for procedures, customs and rules would seem to risk shaking the foundations of our society and smashing trust, which could end up being far more damaging than Brexit. While I did not vote for Brexit, this humble scribe believes that we should not be afraid to leave the EU without a deal and that this may indeed be our best negotiating position.  At any rate, the latest figures belie the panic being felt by many.  In times of such uncertainty, it pays to give due consideration to what we do know.

UK Economic Facts
The UK’s economy is still remarkably robust.

  • Our wages are rising at their highest rate for a decade with record job creation and average earnings growth of 3.4% over the past year.
  • The UK is expanding faster than Germany.
  • Our public finances are improving with the projected budget deficit having fallen to £3 billion, the smallest fiscal shortfall since 2001.
  • Employment is at record high levels and unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s.

Pessimism about the UK runs contrary to some strong evidence.  The economy is just fine; Brexit represents a political crisis.

Brexit Preparedness Facts
While securing a deal should be the favored course, we should beware being deafened by the cries of “crashing out” which could severely damage the UK economy.

  • The UK Parliament has passed myriad Statutory Instruments to ensure there is no “cliff edge”, while the EU has published no-deal preparedness notices so that UK-EU commerce can continue.
  • France has given assurances that the new “smart customs” border at Calais will keep goods flowing even under no deal.
  • The Eurotunnel will stay open no matter what Brexit we have.
  • The City has declared itself “no-deal ready” while the UK-EU Aviation Accord means that planes will continue to fly.
  • The UK and the EU have reciprocated the ability of their citizens to visit each area for up to three months visa-free under no deal.
  • Trading under WTO rules will be fine if there is no deal; the UK already does most of its deals outside the EU under these rules.

UK Life Sciences Facts
Recent analyses by Downing Ventures, UK BioIndustry Association and Informa Pharma Intelligence indicate that our life science sector is flourishing despite Brexit concerns.

  • The number of R&D companies has increased by 65% since 2016.
  • Annual investment totaled more than £2 billion from investors into biotech in 2018, up 85% on 2017.
  • Three new companies incorporated in the sector every working day during the first two months of 2019.
  • Official data from Companies House indicates 3,456 companies are involved in biotech R&D activities, a 65% increase from Q1 in 2016.
  • Venture capital contributed 51% of UK biotech funding from 2016-2018, increasing by 63% from £681 million in 2016 to £1.1 billion in 2018.
  • The UK is home to three of the top five global universities for pre-clinical, clinical and health sciences.

In the interest of full disclosure, while pessimism runs deep in British society, I am very much a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. As frustrated as we may be with the continued Brexit inertia, THE FACTS suggest that things are nowhere near as dark as some would have us believe. Because when you take a close look at all the UK’s incredible life science assets, its strong support for science and technology, and its well-earned status as the third global hot spot for life sciences, you will find it difficult to avoid being involved with, or touched by, British expertise. Of this you can be certain now and for years to come!

Nigel Gaymond, Executive Chair, British Expats in Life Sciences

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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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