The UK’s BioIndustry Association report Confident capital: backing UK biotech calls 2018 “a fantastic year for investment in the UK life science ecosystem”, with £2.2 billion of funds flowing into the sector.
The BIA report notes a weaker appetite in the UK public markets for life science investment. However, entry to the public markets in the US is now a real option for growing businesses. Following the success in 2013 of GW Pharma’s listing, both Autolus and Orchard Therapeutics chose NASDAQ for their IPOs in 2018.
At the earlier stages of growth, it is encouraging to see venture capital investment achieving a strong year with the £1.1 billion raised, mainly at the B and post-B stages in 2018, being more than double the 2017 total raised.
Among the factors helping to support investor confidence in the sector are two Government initiatives: the Industrial Strategy and Patient Capital Review. We consider progress achieved to date and next steps.
Industrial Strategy and the Life Sciences Sector Deal
The launch of the UK’s Industrial Strategy in November 2017 demonstrated a new, more structured approach to improving productivity. This followed a call to action by a coalition drawn from across the life sciences industry and charitable organisations, and the publication of Sir John Bell’s Life sciences: industrial strategy report. Life sciences was then selected as one of the first industries to receive specific support in the form of a sector deal.
In December 2018 a progress review Forging our future: Industrial Strategy - the story so far again put life sciences front and centre of UK industrial strategy. Phase 2 of the sector deal reaffirms Government commitment to the sector, with the aim of building a deeper partnership with industry, universities and charities to improve health, boost productivity and generate employment.
The programme is wide-ranging and extensive, with initiatives to deploy NHS data and resources, expand the geographical spread of the industry around the country, improve investment in research and promote innovation with improved regulatory structures.
The Health Advanced Research Programme targets the development of long-term assets to support research. Exciting Government-backed projects include mass genomic sequencing, building on the recent success of the 100,000 Genomes Project, and the development of a national digital pathology and radiology programme.
Regulatory improvements include a focus on data-driven technologies, with the MHRA successfully bidding for funding to support work with NHS Digital on a proof-of-concept pilot. This will develop synthetic datasets that mimic real-world data to validate algorithms, such as AI algorithms used in medical devices. A regulatory structure to enable point-of-care manufacture of products like advanced therapies and 3-D printed devices is envisaged.
The important role of the NHS is recognised in many areas – from data to the clinical research environment. And benefits to the NHS alongside industry are promised through the Accelerated Access Review, which would see innovative products brought to patients early.
We cannot expect all of these projects to be equally successful, but the range and scale of the effort focused on the life sciences sector offers real opportunities for business to grow and develop.
Promoting access to capital for early stage businesses
Alongside the targeted projects making up the Government’s Industrial Strategy, a policy focus in the UK has been to enable growing, innovative businesses to obtain access to patient capital. Funding specialist, Dona Ardeman, discusses the progress of this project here.
A positive future
The active engagement by UK Government with the challenges faced by innovative start-ups and growing businesses is encouraging. Obviously, Brexit presents serious issues for life sciences investment, but we are optimistic that UK business will remain a strong prospect.