The U.K. can boast a £35 billion biopharma industry that employed 101,000 people in more than 4,000 companies at the end of last year—part of a broader £50 billion life sciences sector when medical technology is included.
But the industry’s biotechnology sector saw a 3% decrease in the number of companies between 2009 and 2011, down to 945 companies. Several U.K. biotechs struggled: Antisoma cut operations last year to conserve cash after disappointing Phase III results for a leukemia drug, and a lung cancer drug it co-developed with Novartis failed in Phase III trials a year earlier.
Alizyme liquidated in 2009 after years of losses, while a firm specializing in cell therapy for wounded soldiers, Intercytex, was re-launched in 2010 with funding from the U.K.’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and U.S. Department of Defense, after selling off assets a year earlier following weak clinical trial results.
Last year, Renovo Group laid off all 100 staffers, halted development of two wound-healing drugs, and outsourced R&D on another potential treatment.
Yet 2011 also saw good news for some life-sci companies. Autifony Therapeutics, a GlaxoSmithKline spinout focused on hearing disorders, won £10 million ($15.5 million) in funding. KalVista Pharmaceuticals, developer of a diabetic macular edema treatment, won £8 million ($12.4 million) in Series A funding, while oncology drug developer Mission Therapeutics, a Cambridge University spinout, raised £6 million ($9.3 million).
Universities or hospitals anchor several successful clusters: London and Cambridge account for a combined 60% of the U.K.’s biotech industry base, while clusters have also grown in Nottingham, Oxford, and especially Scotland, where Dolly the Sheep was cloned.
Intent on shepherding more biopharma companies to market and keeping them growing, Prime Minister David Cameron recently unveiled a “Strategy for U.K. Life Sciences”. The strategy calls for the U.K. to:
- Launch a £180 million ($278.6 million) Biomedical Catalyst Fund to be overseen by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and TSB. The fund is designed to help startups navigate the “valley of death” between the development of a new drug in the laboratory and the point when it comes to market.
- Spend £130 million ($201.2 million) toward personalized or “stratified” medicine research.
- Create a £50 million ($77.4 million) cell therapy technology innovation center to exploit the promising technology commercially, by spending £10 million ($15.5 million) a year over each of the next five years.
“The industry is changing—not just year by year, but month by month. We must ensure that the U.K. stays ahead,” Cameron said in a Dec. 5 statement. “We’ve got a leading science base, we’ve got four of the world’s top 10 universities, and we have a National Health Service unlike any other. But these strengths alone are not enough to keep pace with what’s happening. We’ve got to change radically—the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS.”
The Strategy directs London’s three academic health science centers—Imperial, Kings Health Partners, and UCL Partners—to “explore the potential to develop” information systems that build on NHS data by pulling together patient data for London’s population: “This will enable large groups of patients to be engaged in world-class clinical research on disease-specific and personalised biological therapies, regenerative medicine, and medical devices.”
Some patient data will be generated through remote medical devices that NHS plans to deploy to three million people over the next five years. The devices, according to the Department of Health, will include “home-based equipment that can send details of the vital statistics of at-risk patients directly to doctors.”
Through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the U.K. plans to launch a new app and an improved U.K. Clinical Trials Gateway web portal in March.