Great Expectations for UK Health & Life Sciences in 2015

With the life science industry’s recent congregation for its annual kickoff around the JP Morgan meetings in San Francisco, it seems an appropriate time to reflect a little on 2014, cover off some recent UK developments of note, and look at where we hope to take BELS (British Expats in Life Sciences) in 2015.

The vibrancy of the current UK life science environment was certainly reflected in the growing UK pilgrimage to the Bay Area last week.  It will be followed shortly by the annual UK BioIndustry Association dinner at the Natural History Museum in London, the traditional New Year kickoff for our industry which has been sold out to over 600 revellers.

A bevy of companies have flourished as our science base has continued to be nurtured, despite the tough economic times and debt burden experienced by the UK since the start of the decade.  The Patent Box, Biocatalyst Fund, and a slew of new funded programmes helped stoke the embers in 2014.  Reflecting the wild US enthusiasm for IPOs, in tandem with much more pragmatically-built UK companies, we saw the London markets finally open up to life science IPOs as well, with the notable early successes of Circassia, Horizon Discovery and others.

The UK news has continued to flow on either side of the holidays.  Highlights include:

  • The MRC gaining access to some 68 compounds previously on Big Pharma shelves with a view to making them available to scientists for repurposing
  • Pfizer tasking a King’s College professor with leading their gene therapy unit with the rare diseases team
  • Midatech starting to trade on AIM and acquiring fellow UK company Q-Chip
  • Vectura reporting positive data from asthma trials along with a big asthma / COPD deal with J&J, but Circassia experiencing its first data setback
  • The Cell Therapy Catapult outlining plans for a $85 million cell therapy manufacturing centre at the Stevenage BioCatalyst
  • Magnus Life Sciences receiving EMA orphan drug status for their treatment for placental insufficiency
  • Liverpool’s Redx Pharma looking to become the latest IPO on AIM
  • Two major M&A deals with Shire looking to acquire NPS while Biogen Idec stepped in to acquire Convergence Pharmaceuticals and its neuropathic pain portfolio

Notwithstanding the fact that many Brits are uncomfortable with the notion of being called ‘Great’, the ‘Britain is Great Campaign’ run by UKTI has been deemed a great success in promoting UK strengths globally.  The life sciences, particularly in terms of innovation, are certainly one of our prime strengths.  And our expats are an extension of that greatness.  We strive o make the BELS community a part of this overall effort.  In 2015, my plan is to galvanise the UK interactions with all of you, reconnect you to the sector here at ‘home’, and find ways to strengthen our ‘United Kingdom of Life Scientists’.

The BELS vision is “We know our most talented life scientist expats and they know us.  They feel connected to the UK health and life sciences, and they want to stay engaged throughout their careers.”  In 2015 we will be working to make progress on that vision.  To that end, we are organising The Alumni Summit in Oxford July 9-10 in partnership with the Oxford Academic Health Science Network, where highly accomplished life science alumni of the greater Oxford region who are working abroad will meet with UK life science leaders to catch up, discuss and debate the pressing issues and initiatives of our sector.  We look forward to seeing many of you there.

Best wishes for the year ahead

Nigel Gaymond