Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 67

Submission from the BioIndustry Association (BIA)


"Has the time come for the UK—as part of a clear economic strategy—to make choices about the balance of investment in science and innovation to favour those areas in which the UK has clear competitive advantage?"

  The BioIndustry Association is the trade association for innovative enterprises in the UK's bioscience sector, representing over 300 members involved in realising the human health benefits that bioscience promises.

Historically the UK has been at the forefront of biomedical innovation with a legacy of leading the development of innovative medicines that have transformed healthcare and brought real benefits to patients as well as increasing national wealth. Government has recognised the importance of bioscience to the UK's future prosperity in reports such as Lord Sainsbury's review of science and innovation in 2007 and DIUS' Annual Innovation Report 2008. However, there remain distinct threats and challenges ahead that must be overcome if UK bioscience is to deliver lasting improvements in healthcare and compete internationally.

Industry is committed to working with Government to implement the recommendations outlined in the Bioscience 2015 Review and Refresh report but we also urge Government to commit all it can to ensuring that UK bioscience is mobilised to exploit its knowledge and expertise and retain its competitive advantage.

  The greatest problem the sector is currently facing arises from inadequate financing, exacerbated by the effects of the global economic crisis. As a result, many viable and innovative UK enterprises will face severe financial challenges in the coming months, which will have a negative impact on the innovation pace and the science base in the UK. Maintaining our success in the face of much competition from abroad will also depend on nurturing and developing a pool of highly talented bioscience professionals. This will need to be achieved by attracting and retaining the best current talent and supporting leaders of the future.

  The BIA is very supportive of any approach that better uses the strategic role of Government in order to translate scientific excellence into economic impact by building a strong private sector. It is an approach to public policy that the Association feels has an especially important application to the UK bioscience sector and it is precisely the success of the bioscience sector—which has been recognised by Government as one of the UK's strengths—that will allow the UK to fight its way back from the current economic crisis.

  The UK bioscience sector creates 21,500 high added value jobs and up to three times those numbers of jobs supported by the sector in the broader economy.[205] This does not even take account of the impact of the commercial sector in partnering with, and partly funding, research in universities, institutes and the NHS. Lord Mandelson acknowledged this during a speech in January 2009 when he said "Where are the jobs going to come from? Well, I've spent the last two months arguing that above all they need to come from a renaissance in UK manufacturing and the expansion of the UK's knowledge-based industries... bioscience, precision engineering and advanced electronic manufacturing. And, as I have said, the world class services sector that these industries need to be embedded in".

  UK is genuinely grateful for everything that this Labour Government has done to support t bioscience he sector since 1997. From increased funding for scientific and medical research, to introducing tough, world-leading legislation to combat animal rights extremism, to most recently the establishing of the new Office for Life Sciences led by the Science Minister and former BIA Chair, Lord Drayson. Notwithstanding this support, the current economic climate poses the biggest challenge ever to face the sector. In November 2008 it was reported that over a third of listed UK bioscience companies are running on less than six months worth of cash[206] and in the current economic climate, this position has not improved. Therefore, encouraging the right environment in the UK is now more important than ever. The UK's bioscience sector faces some distinct threats and challenges that must be overcome if it is to continue to compete globally and fulfil its considerable potential—both in terms of improving outcomes for patients with new drugs and treatments and making a significant contribution to the UK economy as a leading example of Britain's growing knowledge economy.

  The BIA has some major concerns, principally around the role of Research Councils in funding research and development undertaken by SMEs. The BIA understands that Research Councils are bound by their spending rules to fund only academic research and does not allow the funding of research undertaken by SMEs. As a result there is a lack of Research Council involvement in initiatives such as the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) in the same way as their US equivalents; therefore the value of such initiatives is lost putting the UK at a distinct disadvantage. Clarification of how Research Councils can make use of initiatives such as SBRI to procure R&D from SMEs is needed.[207] There is real need for a shift in behaviour to ensure that British science and technology are at the heart of the revolutions in industrial production that will define the 21st century.[208]

  On the 1 April 2009 at an oral evidence session to the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee hearing, Iain Gray (Chief Executive) of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) outlined their priorities over the next 12 months which included healthcare and regenerative medicine. It is gratifying to see Government.

  Recognising both the potential of regenerative medicine and the importance of the wider bioscience sector to the health and prosperity of the UK. It is widely accepted that regenerative medicine offers the potential to deliver the next major source of innovation in healthcare, with all the associated benefits to patients such developments will bring. However, UK companies operating in this area are experiencing real issues in raising funds, such that groundbreaking research projects and clinical trials are under serious threat (Annex 1). Extreme investor nervousness is translating into lost opportunities for the UK. In a sector heavily reliant on investment to drive research and development, there is a desperate need for a willing partner to support such globally ground-breaking work through these tough times. Without support for commercialisation, this valuable and groundbreaking research will be lost not just to UK plc but to the UK's patient population.[209]

  Finally and crucially, a successful life sciences sector needs more than a favourable financial, regulatory, and clinical environment; skills and human capital lie at the heart of successful innovation for public health. We need experienced management and high calibre scientists to deliver new medicines. Driving our commitment to work with Government is the reality that a successful UK life sciences sector is a critical element of the future knowledge economy and good for UK patients.

  The BIA would strongly support any Government initiatives that look to protect and build on the industry that we have already in the UK, as well as ensuring that Government investment in life sciences so far is safeguarded and that the potential for economic benefit is fully exploited.

April 2009

205   East of England International's Biotechnology Overview has noted how that region's concentration of hi-tech businesses has attracted "an unprecedented network of service providers to the area", including venture capitalists, high-calibre legal and accountancy practices, patent agents, management consultants and clinical trial professionals. Back

206   KBC Peel Hunt Report "UK Biotech Sector"-25 November 2008. Back

207   http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/research/eligibility.htm Back

208   Report from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)-`Building Britain's Future-New Industry New Jobs' April 2009. Back

209   The Commercial Development of Cell Therapy-Lessons for the Future? Paul Martin, Ruth Hawksley, and Andrew Turner April 2009. http://communications.nottingham.ac.uk/SiteData/Root/File/Resources/Cell%20therapy%20survey%20-%20Part%201%20.pdf Back

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