The U.K. should grow its biopharma community into a top-tier cluster to rival Boston/Cambridge, MA, and the San Francisco Bay Area over the next 10 years, the kingdom’s biotech industry recommended in a report released today.
The UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) said its vision of a world-class biocluster would require creating 30,000 to 60,000 more direct, high-skill jobs, building about 130 more clinical-stage drug developers, and increasing private investment nearly 10-fold, to £2.9 billion ($4.4 billion) per year.
“The vision we share is of a vibrant world leading cluster, of the size and scale of Greater Boston today, as befits our great academic system. It will retain its distinct identity, be forward thinking in its priorities and be focused but mature further to drive global impact, the BIA stated in “A Vision for the U.K. Life Sciences Sector in 2025.”
The BIA pinpointed Boston/Cambridge as a model for cluster growth, citing the 10-year, $1 billion Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, a bond-funded initiative enacted in 2008 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick.
The initiative is overseen by a quasi-independent state-funded agency Patrick expanded following its creation by his predecessor as governor, Mitt Romney. However, the funding is set to expire in 2018; what happens after then is uncertain, to be determined by Patrick’s successor, current Gov. Charlie Baker.
“The UK system is fragmented—by geography, funder, sector, and body. Coordination could be improved,” the BIA observed. “We need a “grand alliance” across this sector that works towards this shared vision. It will need new, more integrated governance covering NHS [the National Health Service], the major funders, government, regulators and the private sector.”
“Mass Life could an appropriate model for such an alliance,” the BIA concluded.
The BIA said its report was timed to coincide with the convening of a new Parliament next month, following the May 7 general election: “By setting out a vision for two parliaments hence, we hope to unlock the excellent science in our country for the benefit of humanity.”
The BIA said many of the U.K.’s recent efforts at growing biopharma are working well: The kingdom, according to the association, can boast of the world’s most productive large biomedical basic science base when measured on citations for dollars spent.
Also working well, the group said, were Cancer Research UK (CRUK)’s drug development office and the Cell Therapy Catapult—both of which operate as “one-stop shops” offering expertise to researchers intent on speeding up translation of basic research. The BIA also cited as successes the British Medical Council and Medical Research Council, for their funding of later-stage concept testing and preclinical research: “These have transformed the system for the better, and unlocked our success.”
However, the BIA said the U.K.’s biopharma effort needed improvement in several areas. The report called for developing funding streams for rapid patenting of innovations and biological GMP. The association noted that the U.K. is stymied by lack of biopharma investment by its small, London-based pool of expert investors, and that expert angel and venture capital funding is needed, both from investors and from corporate funds.
In addition to funding, the BIA identified as a challenge a need for more managers with the expertise needed to create the additional companies envisioned by 2025.
The report also called for improving researchers’ access to expertise, from experimental design to commercialization to samples from the NHS.
The BIA added that the U.K.’s overall translation of research lagged behind that of American researchers, despite recent efforts: “While much improved, a gap remains vs. U.S. academics to see value beyond papers and so initiate translation with timely patents.”