3 February, 2020 - 12:31 By News Desk

BioMedTech in the East of England: Why these Twenties could be transformational

A century ago we saw the start of the Roaring Twenties, driven by rapid technological and social change that gave us the discovery of the enzyme Lysozyme, the first antibiotic and sliced bread.

Many breakthroughs have made claim to being the best thing since, writes Tony Jones, CEO of One Nucleus

Moreover, a number of those have originated in this region such as monoclonal antibodies, the structure of DNA and fibre optics.

Our innovators, entrepreneurs and corporates have been pushing back the boundaries for decades so it is with confidence I feel we can look to the next decade to be transformational.

Converging areas such as data science, advanced manufacturing, imaging, advanced therapeutics, digital therapeutics, regenerative medicine and genomics continue to enable precision in medicine of which our predecessors could only dream.

The growth and progress to date has been enabled by continued investment in research by successive governments, private investors and entrepreneurs being prepared to take risk followed by large investment from global institutional and corporate investors.

Entering this new decade the biomedical sector, like many others in deep tech, faces some major challenges and competition. One Nucleus will be continuing to focus on supporting members and the region in addressing these challenges where possible as is our remit and drive.

Investing in Innovation

The phrase ‘cash is king’ is a cliché for very good reason. Whilst we have some of the brightest minds and bravest entrepreneurs, it requires investment to continue translating great science into great products to benefit patients, the economy and those taking such risks.

Private investment into the region’s life sciences sector reached record levels in 2018. Of course, not every year can be a record year and one can point to stand out deals made by companies such as Artios Pharma, CMR Surgical and Microbiotica as reasons for such a year.

Make no mistake, 2019 may not have been a record year but it was by no means a poor year and early indications are that whilst investment may have dropped a little, it was still impressive. I am sure data coming out soon will reflect this.

That said, anecdotal feedback and some early data points may be indicating that early stage investment is coming under pressure, a trend we must be wary to mitigate if the pipeline to larger deals is to be maintained.

It is also election year in the US, which could see the opportunities to IPO lessen as we enter the latter part of 2020. Nasdaq has been the IPO route of choice for most biotechs of late, such as Bicycle Tx and Autolus, so losing momentum there could be impactful.

It is not just private sector capital. Successive governments have supported both R & D and enterprise. At a time when the political agenda is changing rapidly, we must ensure this Johnson-led Government doesn’t overlook its brand leader region when investing in our infrastructure and science, nor can it be allowed to underestimate the value of schemes such as SEIS and EIS in stimulating growth creation.

I am sure our political lobby groups at a national level will not allow such damage without resistance and we look forward to supporting those calls. 

One Nucleus is excited to be developing a new investment conference with global partners EBD Group (part of Informa) to be held in Cambridge.

Combining both the One Nucleus and EBD brands, networks and experience, a leading edge conference to attract international investors to the region will take place in July with elements showcasing our translational research and technologies complementing a focused investor showcase. Watch this space for details in the coming weeks!

The people factor

Access to the best people is always a pre-requisite for success. The competition for talent among the companies in the region is fierce. Whilst a slight dampening of vacancy rates was observed in Cambridge post the 2016 vote, falling below the 2015 peaks, a steady recovery has been observed since. With 44 per cent of the region’s life science companies active in R & D and over 90 per cent being SMEs, it is unsurprising that it is scientific vacancies that dominate the recruitment landscape.

A sign of a maturing cluster, however, is that roles much deeper in R & D such as regulatory and clinical have started to narrow the gap. For example, in 2015 scientific vacancies outnumbered regulatory by four to one. 
2017 saw that differential narrow to 60 per cent. Over that time, we also saw a shift in geographic rates, with the balance in UK vacancies across the UK showing a drift away from Cambridge.

This has been quoted as a sign the UK Life Science Industrial Strategy is working for the whole of the UK. If overall numbers rise I would agree; I would urge caution however, against simple displacement of activity over growth. Brand leaders are vital in attracting top talent. 

It is not only the magnetic effect of attracting talent from elsewhere that matters. Much work to address the region’s skills gaps is ongoing. One Nucleus is delighted to be one of the sponsors of the Cambridge Ahead project to evaluate careers advice in schools. 

Engaging the brightest minds in order to create a diverse technical and enterprising labour pool must start early. One Nucleus itself, having established a Skills Special Interest Group is embarking on the launch of a new careers focused conference in March, hosted by Anglia Ruskin University. Not a traditional jobs fair approach, this will be a conference to share learning: A forum to openly discuss what makes employees attractive to employers and vice versa. 

Increasingly, work-based experience is seen as the right way forward yet knowledge gaps in what funding mechanisms, project designs and ethos can be leveraged to attract the best people. These aspects and more will be brought to the table at the event on March  19 entitled ‘Building Life Science Adventures’ where focusing on creating careers not just jobs is key.  

Technology

I’m not sure I have ever heard the phrase ‘there aren’t enough exciting ideas or technology’ applied to the region. Great research is a given and the proximity of these complementary disciplines in biology, medicine, technology and Artificial Intelligence means the potential for innovation is immense. 

I believe it was Medicxi that highlighted that innovation arises at the intersection of technology areas. The region goes from strength to strength in identifying innovation and increasingly deploying that to real world solutions. 

The growing success story that is Cell & Gene Therapy manufacturing at Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst and R & D into the microbiome at the Quadram Institute are just two examples in the region that are centres of excellence attracting global attention and investment. 

Mirrors of the emergence of monoclonal antibodies perhaps, where such strength in continuing to develop the area sees the likes of F-star, IONTAS and Kymab continue to thrive. 

Innovation continues at pace in the R & D Services sector too. Rising stars such as Domainex, Arecor, PhoreMost, Mogrify and Bit Bio are all demonstrating strong deal pipelines and growth as Pharma and large biotech corporates seek to access their unique platforms and technological insights to solve their industrial challenges. 

One must not overlook also the continuing growth and innovation in the more established service companies such as Charles River Labs, Lonza, Abcam, Horizon and Abzena who create such value and momentum through their in-house R & D in support of clients, but also through M & A activity bringing access to new platforms into the ecosystem. 

I have highlighted some biotech-centric players here, but equally those large and small businesses in neighbouring sectors are also impacting on this sector’s ability to change people’s lives for the better. 

They are just too numerous to include everyone, but the One Nucleus Innovation Seminars and conferences planned this year will be sure to bring this breadth to the fore given the benefits of collaboration, inter-disciplinary approaches and as yet unmet medical needs that require such thinking to be addressed. 

I have used the above text to outline why I think the region remains the brand leader region in Europe due to its concentration of excellence in science, technology and business. 

I would truly urge anyone making or influencing policy to ensure they focus on the long-term right things to do as opposed to the short-term easy. Improving patient outcomes and economic growth are not well suited to a quick fix. 

Above all, I hope the above reasons provide confidence that the region is the best place to develop technologies, healthcare solutions and career opportunities that will change lives.

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