Intelligent solutions

Why the British Life Sciences sector deserves close examination

By Mike Cowley

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‘The British are coming” to Boston but this time Paul Revere can rest easy in his grave in the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. Nor will Longfellow be around the celebrate the event with a poem on the ‘Midnight Ride’

This time it is not the British Redcoats who are heading to put down troublesome militias but the cream of the UK Biotech industry looking to do business with their opposite numbers in the leading life science corridor in the US at Bio 2018.

Nor will tea be an issue as it was when it sparked the American Revolution – although it may well still be the drink of choice for many of the 200 British companies who are there to fly the flag – but the event reflects the increasing importance of Boston on the global life science stage.

Led by the UK Government’s Department for International Trade, the Brits are there to demonstrate the high concentration of talent “across the pond”, offering significant opportunities for the US to create value through partnering, deal making and, of course, investment.

While Boston is now recognized as the world’s top region for biotech and life sciences, the UK is not far behind. It leads Europe in health and life sciences inward investment and ranks just behind San Francisco and Boston for the amount of life science finance raised.

The UK offers a unique data-driven biomedical ecosystem, which is anchored by the world’s largest integrated health service (the NHS). Turning 70 in July, it is thanks to the NHS that diseases such as polio and diphtheria have been all but eradicated and treatments like the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant have been pioneered. And the NHS continues to drive innovations including mechanical thrombectomy, improvements to stroke survival, bionic eyes to restore sight, and surgical breakthroughs such as hand transplants.

Today, the UK is doubling down on its strengths in life sciences innovation, investing over $100bn in R&D over the next 10 years. Through the recently-published Industrial Strategy (see NHSA report in this post) the UK plans to tackle challenges such as the aging society, and is creating a world-leading cluster for artificial intelligence (AI).

Meanwhile, the UK is making a major contribution to global public health agendas, taking a lead in tackling the policy and practical challenges in areas such as antimicrobial resistance, dementia, and neglected and tropical diseases (see Drug Development Unit in this post).

And all this can be found mirrored in the UK Pavilion at Bio 2018 where leading companies such as Benevolent AI, a $2bn drug discovery company leveraging AI, can be found rubbing corporate shoulders with PsiOxus, the developer of cancer-killing viruses, the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s largest biomedical funder investing $1bn a year, and with new kids on the block such as Exploristics, which has developed software to run virtual clinical trials (see more on exhibitors in this post).

Life sciences in the UK was at one time dominated by companies in what is known as the Golden Triangle – Oxford, Cambridge and London – but Bio 2018 now reflects the buoyancy of the sector across the country with strong contingents from across the rest of England, Scotland (see this post), and Northern Ireland.

Now it is a case of “All the Brits are coming” – even though history now tells us Paul Revere never actually used the original call to arms.