The challenges faced by drug developers can be unique in different countries, which may have various regulatory and approvals processes, reimbursement policies and access to investment capital. Working alongside these companies are national biotech and pharmaceutical trade groups which work as partners to help advocate  for the needs of these companies.

In Great Britain for example, Steven Bates, CEO of the BioIndustry Association, has led major campaigns for improved access to finance, the refilling of the biomedical catalyst, anti-microbial resistance, and longer-term investments. Bates champions the adaptive pathway approach to the licensing of new drugs, the need for early access, and is particularly proud of the working relationship the BIA has established with the UK’s leading medical research charities. Meanwhile, the industry continues to grow. The latest government data reveals the UK life science industry as a whole employs almost 240,900 people, which is approximately 1.0% of all private sector employment. There are 5,649 businesses generating approximately £70.3bn in annual turnover.

During a recent WuXi AppTec interview, Bates shared his continued vision for Great Britain’s vibrant biotech community, how UK companies are impacting fields such as genomics, as well as the growing interest in the Chinese market.

WuXi: What makes the UK’s biotech industry so rich?

Steve Bates: The UK is a vibrant biotech cluster that makes a global impact. The UK’s impressive preclinical and clinical pipeline shows the strength and capability of the UK biotech ecosystem to produce fantastic science that attracts talent and funding from across the globe. The Patient Capital Review means 2018 is the year where UK pension funds will be nudged into backing the life sciences, which is a key sector for the future of the UK economy.

It is also very encouraging to see that UK biotech companies are scaling and maturing at pace, and the variety of funding options open to them means we can build the third global cluster in bioscience in the UK.

WuXi: What are some of the recent major scientific advances in Great Britain that have potential global impact?

Steve Bates: UK scientists, companies and institutions are playing leading roles in the genomics-driven transformation of healthcare. The Wellcome Sanger Institute, a major contributor to the Human Genome project and now to Genomics England’s 100,000 Genomes Project, houses the largest concentration of genomics scientists in the world. WuXi NextCODE is an important partner of that program. It sits next to one of the biggest life sciences data repositories, EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute. UK start-up Congenica’s genome-analysis software, developed at Sanger, filters raw genomic data and extensive clinical information to generate insights to help clinicians diagnose and treat patients with inherited diseases. At Eagle Genomics, biologists, data scientists and biostatisticians have created a platform to curate, annotate and organize genomic data, helping uncover its value through highlighting connections and inter-dependencies.

These UK companies are taking genomics global and beyond. Oxford Nanopore’s range of portable low-cost DNA sequencing devices have opened up biological analyses to scientists across multiple sectors, in multiple locations. Its tiniest sequencer has been used on the International Space Station. The machines work by passing currents through biological nanopores – small holes made by special proteins – and measuring changes as molecules, like DNA, pass through or close to the nanopore. Global Gene Corp. is building longitudinal genomic data sets from under-explored populations. NewGene provides genomic analysis and diagnostic services. The UK offer in this innovative space is strong.

WuXi: How does the UK support a robust biotech ecosystem?

Steve Bates: The UK has a strong financing ecosystem that has built up around our strong science base, attracting funding from across the globe. Our 2017 finance report Pipeline Progressing: The UK’s Global Bioscience Cluster in 2017 showed that UK biotech companies are maturing and moving through the financing life cycle, with company IPOs raising more than twice as much money in 2017 than in 2016.

It can be challenging for early stage companies to secure funding and the Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst helps to bridge that early stage funding gap. The BIA has successfully campaigned to refill the Biomedical Catalyst, securing  £100 million in funding in October 2016, which will continue to support early stage projects to bridge the valley of death in early stage funding.

In the Autumn Budget 2017, the Chancellor announced the outcome of the Patient Capital Review, which will deliver a £20bn package to support investment in innovative companies over the next 10 years. The Review was launched by Chancellor Phillip Hammond a year ago and has been looking at how to increase access to finance, and especially long-term investment, for innovative growing companies.

Further changes announced in the Autumn Budget that will also create new opportunities in the venture capital landscape in 2018 include doubling the annual allowance for people investing in knowledge-intensive companies through the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) to  £2m, effective from April 2018; and doubling the annual investment that knowledge-intensive companies can receive through the EIS and Venture Capital Trusts (VCT) to £10m, effective from April 2018.

In 2018, we will also see work by the British Business Bank to establish a new  £2.5 billion fund to invest in patient capital as well as HM Treasury-led work to see if barriers can be removed to allow pension funds to invest more in innovative sectors such as life sciences.

WuXi: What role do universities play in Great Britain’s biotech development?

Steve Bates: The BIA works with Informa Pharma Intelligence to measure the pipeline in Europe, and UK innovation remains strong with the greatest number of preclinical and clinical products in the pipeline in Europe. Some of the strengths of this pipeline can be attributed to the significant amount of funding that the UK invests in early stage and translational science and reflects the quality of our universities.

WuXi: What business-related challenges do biotech start-ups face?

Steve Bates: As I mentioned, raising capital can be challenging but there is a broad network of support for companies here in the UK. Another challenge for small companies is that ensuring that they have the right people that have the knowledge and expertise to help the business grow and scale. The BIA has been working to build a talent pipeline of the future and equip the next generation of CEOs through its PULSE programme, which we ran in partnership with the Francis Crick Institute.

This year, we had 25 up-and-coming life science entrepreneurs participating; 10 researchers with early stage projects selected from the Crick and 15 entrepreneurs from different stages of pre-seed investment selected from BIA referrals. The workshop was held at the iconic Francis Crick Institute with the sessions run by experienced life science professionals and seasoned entrepreneurs, largely from BIA membership.

WuXi: What regulatory challenges do biotech companies face in developing new medicines in the UK?

Steve Bates: The BIA plays a leading role in speaking for the UK life sciences industry on regulation that affects the clinical development and approval of new, innovative medicines. The BIA works both on its own and with partner organizations, both domestically and in the EU, to ensure a coherent approach to regulatory activities. Currently the UK life sciences sector is regulated at a European level and Brexit will change how this works in the future. Since the referendum result the BIA has campaigned for regulatory alignment and cooperation with Europe to ensure that patients on both sides of the channel do not face any interruption to the supply of medicines.

WuXi: What are your priorities in promoting the British biotech industry?

Steve Bates: The Brexit result has made it more important than ever to promote the value of working with the UK to the sector in Europe and further afield to ensure that the sector continues to grow and succeed in the future. The BIA has formed a China Special Interest Group to help members who are keen to start working with the Chinese market and we are ramping up our finance and the city work to ensure that the vibrancy of the UK financing ecosystem is maintained during and after Brexit. The China Biotech Special Interest Group (SIG) has been set up with the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) and is supported by the Department for International Trade (DIT), to provide a discussion platform for BIA and CBBC members in the Biotech sector, exploring the opportunities for business growth in and with China, via trade and investment. The group’s objective is to increase the number of UK biotech companies collaborating with, generating revenue from, and receiving investment from the Chinese market.

WuXi: How much does the level of entrepreneurship and willingness of the private sector to risk investment play in your biotech industry?

Steve Bates: UK is an entrepreneurial ecosystem with a long history of spinning companies out of academia. We also have a cohort of experienced managers who have repeat experience of building, scaling and selling companies, and starting again, and they are passing this experience down to the next generation of managers. The UK also has a community of investors that know and understand the sector, and more generalist investors are beginning to see the pros of investing in the sector.

WuXi: Thanks Steve. We look forward to watching the UK life science industry’s success unfold.