UK Health & Life Sciences Sector News

We curate news of the UK health & life sciences sector throughout the year which we distribute to members of the BELS community via email. Additional perspectives of BELS and this UK sector can be seen in our blogs.

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Of special note:

A special congratulations to three of the BELS community who were recognized among the 18 Fiercest Women in Life Sciences for 2017 by the folks at FierceThey are Dr. Jane Griffiths (Global Head of Actelion (J&J) in Switzerland and a graduate of the University of Aberystwyth and the University of Wales);  Sarah Boyce (Chief Business Officer of Ionis Pharmaceuticals in Carlsbad CA and a graduate of the University of Manchester); and Dr. Samantha Budd Haeberlin (VP of Alzheimer’s Discovery & Development at Biogen in Cambridge MA and a graduate of the University of Dundee).  Yet another example of the incredible talent base of our United Kingdom of Life Scientists!

United Kingdom relies on science to revive flagging economy   Long-awaited industrial strategy pins hopes on commercial gains from research.  The UK has laid out how it will pour money into research to boost its economy — including cash for artificial intelligence and other high-tech industries — as the country prepares to leave the EU in 2019. Science does not usually sit at the forefront of British economic-policy documents. But the UK government’s new industrial strategy, released on 27 November, is sprinkled liberally with references to R&D throughout, emphasizing the government’s increasing focus on research as a remedy for economic woes.   (Nature   Nov 27, 2017)

UK government announces research-spending hike ahead of budget    The UK government seems to be making good on its promises to increase research spending significantly over the next decade. In an announcement on 20 November, the government said that it would boost public spending on R&D to £12.5 billion (US$16.5 billion) in 2021–22, an increase of £500 million on what is planned for the year before. The hike builds on a surprise announcement made last year, when politicians promised yearly increases in research funding until 2020. According to the London-based Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE), the increase puts the UK on track to hit a government target to raise combined public and private spending on R&D to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027.   (Nature  Nov 20, 2017)

Richard Henderson FRS wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry  Richard Henderson FRS from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge has been jointly awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Jacques Dubochet and Joachim Frank for “developing cryoelectron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”. Henderson was the 2016 recipient of the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, the world’s oldest scientific prize. He was awarded the prize for his work on imaging techniques which have enabled scientists to understand the arrangements of atoms in important biomolecules. Understanding the structures of proteins and biomolecules is vital for understanding essential processes in the body and is a key part of modern drug design to make more effective pharmaceuticals which better interact with target proteins in the body. Henderson has helped to develop techniques using electron microscopy, which bombards proteins or other large biological molecules being studied with electrons. This allows scientists to see their structure. Previously scientists could use X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of biomolecules but this technique can’t be used with all proteins and macromolecules. Henderson’s work over his career – for which he was awarded the 2016 Copley Medal – has pioneered the development of electron microscopy imaging techniques to provide an alternate route to determining the structure of these biomolecules and so improve our understanding of their functions in biology.  (The Royal Society – October 4, 2017)

We hail individual geniuses, but success in science comes through collaboration  Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome Trust, points out that the new Nobel Prize Winners should be celebrated but keep in mind that they will have drawn on teams, often international teams …Collaboration brings fresh ideas and new perspectives. Bringing people together from diverse backgrounds, often across borders, leads to new ways of thinking, better solutions and faster progress. We need to celebrate this collaboration more than ever, because it doesn’t happen on its own. It needs an environment that encourages researchers to build international and interdisciplinary teams, to work in different countries, to attack problems that no one person, or nation, can solve alone. (The Guardian – October 1, 2017)   Ed note: BELS works to encourage and enable collaboration and commerce.

UK on track to beat 2016 biotech venture capital fundraising and maintain European lead in 2017  New data from the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Informa Pharma intelligence reveals that life science venture capital funding and secondary offerings are on track to meet or surpass 2016 figures. The headline statistics show: UK biotech continues to dominate venture capital funding in Europe and placed third globally raising £361.4 million; At the half way point in 2017 seed, second round and later funding are all on track to meet or surpass last year’s figures, with only first round currently behind on 2016; There was one UK IPO in the first half of 2017 from Skin Biotherapeutics who raised £4.5 million on AIM; Secondary public funding rounds are on track to meet or surpass 2016 figures with £261 million raised in 16 offerings across AIM and Nasdaq; The emergence of Biopharma Credit, which raised over £600 million on the LSE through initial placements and secondary placements, could be a novel source of debt finance for UK life science  (BIA – September 29, 2017)


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