What are the challenges and opportunities for Life Science Post Brexit?

The FierceBiotech Executive Summit, Royal Society of Medicine, London

October 30th, 2018

For someone who tries to keep up with Brexit by listening to the Brexitcast, I was interested to hear, more specifically, what the Life Sciences sector feels about Brexit.

There was a lively panel discussion between Dr Munna Choudury of Accenture and Alacramed, Dr Chris Doherty, from Alderley Park, Matthew Durdy from the Cell & Gene Catapult and Dr Peter Jackson of The AMR Centre.  The Panel was chaired by Carly Helfand from FiercePharma.

In general, the panel was optimistic and they felt that:

The fundamentals of scientific collaboration are still strong; even that collaborations could be increasing globally because, since the referendum, we have increased our geographic range of search. It was felt that the EU can’t turn their back on the expertise in the UK Life Sciences sector and the view of the panel was that good collaborations will continue. We have been in danger of missing opportunities until now, because we have not been looking in the right places e.g. the USA.  This sentiment was very much echoed by the panel: The sector is buoyant, with record levels of investment.

One fact that resonated was that smaller amounts of quick money can be preferable to large amounts of slow money.  This was referring to private sector funding v large collaborative grants.

So, what are the biggest risks?

It was felt that regulatory risk was high. There is good intent to maintain international regulatory alignment and regulatory innovation is increasing, with more flexible approaches to adaptive clinical trials for example. But, one of the risks was being caught up in endless debate.

Retaining & attracting talent is an issue & uncertainty isn’t helping.  Matthew Durdy, very descriptively, painted the picture that If there is a roadblock, companies will inevitably find a way around, but it is much harder if the roadblock is moving.

There are obvious risks around hard borders & therefore investment in, for example, manufacturing.

The opportunities will come from new international collaborations, increased internal collaborations and more investment from the Government in regional clusters. Support from the activities of Government and the quality of science has attracted companies into the UK.  However, UK companies have a tendency to exit quickly instead of scale.

Collaborative funding will rely on the UK Government being responsible for the UK contribution & we have had no guarantees yet. This is slowing down new projects. There are also Instances of uncertainty slowing commercial progress, with a slowdown in the ability to attract talent, uncertainty around bilateral funding arrangements and an uncertainty around what provisions to put into contracts pre-& post March.

The panel felt that often PhDs were underutilised in mundane tasks which could be filled by school leaver apprentices, thus addressing the reduction in talent by moving PhDs to higher level contributions.

In summary, it was felt that due to the nature of the beast the Life Sciences sector has to take the long view.  To retain the UK’s competitive edge in this sector, there is a requirement for sustained effort over a long period of time.

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