The Week That Was in UK Health & Life Sciences– 17/11/14

The realities of life within the European Union came to roost in three specific ways last week.  First, with Germany leading international opposition to the scheme, the UK was forced to slightly water down its Patent Box initiative that had become a key attraction for overseas entities, both in terms of locating business in the UK and in exploring M&A activity here (witness Pfizer’s pursuit of AstraZeneca earlier in the year).  Now companies will only benefit from the Patent Box, which cuts the tax rate on profits from patented products to 10%, if the R&D that created the IP was done in the UK.

Originally, the scheme was open to products discovered overseas but there was deep concern this would encourage companies to funnel profits from products developed and sold around the world into the UK to lower the tax rate.  The compromise was reached just ahead of the G20 meeting in Australia and allows the UK to keep the Patent Box in its current form for a number of years.  This means little change in the near term but eventually that companies wanting to benefit from the scheme will have to base their R&D in the UK, which of course we would like to see.

Secondly, it seems that Guido Rasi has had to step down from his role leading Europe’s FDA equivalent, the European Medicines Agency, not because of any shortfall in his running of the agency since he took up the mantle in November of 2011, but because an EU Civil Service Tribunal has reached a judgement on an appeal made by an individual against the selection procedure back in 2011.  On purely formal grounds, the court has therefore annulled the original European Commission decision to adopt a shortlist of potential candidates for the Executive Director position.  Thus it seems that someone who has been doing a perfectly acceptable job running the Agency has had to step down (hopefully temporarily) because someone appealed against their non-inclusion on the original short list.  Amazing that this took so long to get through the courts; only in the jungle which is Brussels could this occur!

Thirdly, the new President of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker, created further concerns in many minds with a decision to formally close the Bureau of European Policy Advisers which included the post of Chief Scientific Adviser, which had been held since 2012 by the UK’s Professor Anne Glover, formerly chief scientist in Scotland.  Juncker seems to have set himself squarely betwixt the science community which is generally appalled at the development and the green lobby which had vented their wrath with Glover’s open support for GM crops.

In other developments, Reckitt Benckiser has launched the spinoff of its pharmaceuticals division into an addiction control specialist to emerge on the London Stock Exchange before Christmas as Indivior.  Also Oxford University has teamed up with Ohio-based Harrington Discovery Unit to create a new source of funding for early-stage drug development projects which can then work with Harrington’s commercial partner, BioMotiv, which will set up a site in Oxford.  This will augment another effort to help British academics turn their research into viable drug development programmes, namely the UK government-funded Medical Research Council’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme which targets research at the same stage of development.

Babraham’s science park in Cambridge is to expand again with a further 100,000 square feet of R&D space at the site that already hosts the likes of Abzena, F-star and Kymab.  Ziarco, a UK company that was spawned from the downsizing of Pfizer’s operations in Sandwich, has raised $33.1 million in a Series B financing to develop inflammatory and allergy assets dropped by Pfizer.  Craig Venter’s Human Longevity announced a collaboration with King’s College London to access and sequence the university’s TwinsUK Registry.  The San Diego sequencing and analytics firm, which is building a database of human genotypes ad phenotypes to help solve age-associated disease and human biological decline, will sequence whole genomes and microbiomes of up to 2000 individuals, as well as conduct metabolomics analysis on up to 6000 longitudinal samples in the database.

Finally, the UK government has set out new plans to improve health outcomes and the quality of patient care through digital technology by 2020, which is to include the introduction next year of NHS kitemarks for trusted smartphone health apps.  I will take a look at the proposals in more detail and also Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt’s recent speech to the King’s Fund on innovation and efficiency in the NHS.  Thoughts on both will follow in this space.

I hope everyone has a spectacular week ahead.

Nigel Gaymond