Given our life sciences University base, the UK should have a biotech ecosystem equivalent to the Boston or Bay areas. We don’t today. There are many reasons for this including the lack of an entrepreneurial culture, management talent, knowledge transfer or NHS engagement but an important one is the real deficit in translational funding at the earliest stages of innovation, the so-called ‘valley of death’. In this blog post, Davidson Ateh, CEO of BioMoti, introduces the panel discussion he will chair at this year’s Genesis, Thursday 10 December 2015 (11:30-12:30 Stream C – Victoria, 2nd Floor), with a focus on the role of public funding for early commercialisation.
What is the best source of cash for your innovative early stage business? This is a trick question. The answer, especially given by biotech founders, is usually ‘grants’. The correct answer is of course ‘customers’ as they are the ultimate validation for the existence of any business product or service. However, we all realise that the reality for early stage life science companies is that assets are at the awkward stage of not quite right for University, there are no Nature papers in regulatory compliant toxicology studies for example, and nowhere near de-risked to be tradable on the open market, so seldom a viable business in the traditional sense.
Thus, early stage life science start-ups are in the unique predicament of requiring both large capital investment and significant development time before any assurance can be gained on the innovation. However, I am of the view that biotech is the most appropriate and nimble vehicle to transition new discoveries from the University to larger corporates. We just need to face reality as an industry and understand that strong public-private partnership is fundamental to support a vibrant, diversified and sustainable life science industry where funders from the public, charitable, large corporate and risk capital sectors can fully play their parts.
The BIA’s Vision 2025 report (https://www.bioindustry.org/document-library/a-vision-for-the-uk-life-sciences-sector-in-2025/) summarises the wider issues facing the UK ecosystem, including poor funding, and provides a compelling ambition for our sector. Innovate UK’s Biomedical Catalyst was a recent example of a public-private scheme aimed at supporting the development of biomedical innovations. In less than 4 years, it awarded over £250M in grants to both academic and business-led proposals simultaneously attracting over £120M in private sector investment. I have previously shared our own experience, at BioMoti, with the Biomedical Catalyst (http://blog.bioindustry.org/2015/03/17/guest-blog-who-is-the-biomedical-catalyst-for-part-1-of-2/) and my thoughts on how such schemes could be made more relevant to start-ups (http://blog.bioindustry.org/2015/03/19/guest-blog-who-is-the-biomedical-catalyst-for-part-2-of-2/).
This Thursday we are holding an hour-long panel debate at Genesis 2015 to explore the issues around ‘funding an innovative science base’. We will particularly focus on the role of public funding in the early stages of commercialisation and how that could leverage private capital from charities, major industry players and risk capital providers. The debate, which we hope will be lively and engaging, will be structured over three parts:
- We will kick off with a discussion on current UK funding sources that enable translational work within universities and the formation of innovative life science SMEs. In the UK, public biomedical R&D expenditure currently stands at around $2.5B versus $49B for the US, $28B for the EU and $2B for a rapidly growing China. This is approximately 1/20th the public funding available in the US despite the UK achieving 1/6th of US GDP. The UK is often said to be punching above its weight, but for how long is that sustainable?
- We will then proceed to a discussion on how innovation grant funding is deployed in the UK and explore meritocracy in the process. Most fund providers are fixed on traditional peer review formats but for an industry built on evidence, there is none to suggest that this process works. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that peer review is slow, expensive, inconsistent, heavily biased and easily abused. How should funders address this?
- Finally, we will consider how the innovation-funding ecosystem can better work together. How best can research councils, charities, major industry and investors link together to support the development of early stage ideas?
We hope to have an interactive debate during this Genesis 2015 session and plan to take specific questions from the audience on these topics as well as open questions, relevant to the theme, towards the end of the session. It is my belief that debating these issues together can lead to new ideas for a truly sustainable life sciences sector which is and could be an even more important driver of the UK knowledge economy. Our panelists and I are very much looking forward to welcoming your participation at our session.
Funding an innovative science base
Thursday, 10 December, 11:30-12:30
Stream C – Victoria, 2nd Floor
Davidson Ateh, BioMoti
Zahid Latif, Innovate UK
Jackie Hunter CBE, BBSRC
Rob McMaster, VCH Research Institute
Aisling Burnand MBE, Association of Medical Research Charities
Maria Dahl, AstraZeneca
Lars Gredsted, Wellcome Trust
Written by, Davidson Ateh (CEO, BioMoti), 09 December 2015
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.