Biotechs are delivering on Eastern promise
Whilst 2018 was a year of huge uncertainty with regards to the political and economic landscape across the globe, many may feel it was one of great success when reflecting on the Life Sciences sector in the region, writes Tony Jones, CEO of One Nucleus.
Such successes laid the foundations of what could be the tipping point of when the anticipated advances in fields such as genomics, AI and Machine Learning, digital health and engineering deliver the patient outcomes and investor returns envisaged over the past decade or more.
The region has been at the forefront of Precision Medicine approaches since the concept emerged as ‘stratified medicine’ many (super) moons ago, yet despite much expectation one could argue it has yet to deliver for all stakeholders. So why does it feel we are now closer than ever to achieving those goals?
Commitment to investing in critical research-based initiatives such as those developed by the Wellcome Genome Campus and the many world-class biomedical research institutions across the region, has anchored progress in the field here.
The exciting news that the 100,000 Genomes Project had sequenced that number of whole genomes within the NHS was another clear exemplification of the collective desire of Government, NHS and private sector partners to use our understanding in science to improve lives. Innovating to change the world is in the DNA of the scientists, business leaders and investors in the region and that attracts great minds, capital and support from further afield who wish to enable and share in such success.
Advances in fields such as data science, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, diagnostics, robotics, protein engineering and the microbiome are seeing that Eastern promise progress ever closer to delivery.
Major investments and corporate deals into businesses small and large over the past years have seen well in excess of £2 billion of private capital pour into the cluster.
Whether collaborations secured by companies such as Microbiotica’s with Genentech, Mission Therapeutics with Abbvie and Crescendo Biologics with Takeda or the significant financing events by CMR Surgical, Artios or Acacia Therapeutics, there are numerous signs of the maturing asset and company pipeline in the cluster.
Yet further evidence, if any were needed, emerged that whilst the region is highly inventive and entrepreneurial, the cluster is about much more than early stage research and spin-outs – now having a comprehensive portfolio of opportunity in which to engage.
It would perhaps be remiss not to mention the ‘B’ word. Boston, together with Cambridge, Massachusetts is the envy of many and seen as the benchmark by which any Life Science cluster is measured.
It is clear there is a gap to close still, but it could be argued that it is a similar comprehensive portfolio of opportunity that has rendered Boston so attractive to capital and the large Pharma seeking to populate their investment and development pipelines, respectively.
A continuing supportive Government policy and investment strategy are clearly a requirement to increase the innovation capacity of any leading cluster. This has been evident in Massachusetts and, in no small way due to the MPs in our region, has also been the case across the East of England.
Public sector alone, however, cannot fund a maturing pipeline of advanced therapeutics, precision medicines and health technologies. It is pleasing to see how the long-term public support has made the cluster attractive to private capital – the above deals being examples of just how attractive.
Whilst the uncertainties around Brexit continue, with parliamentarians not yet showing themselves to be as adept at collaboration, compromise and dealmaking as our Life Science leaders, I still believe that we are poised for a very positive year.
The Cell & Gene Therapy catapult recently highlighted how the Advanced Therapy pipeline has expanded; the corresponding Manufacturing Centre being located at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst driving growth is just one example of how innovative medicines are starting to come of age.
Another is the exciting progress by rare disease companies such as Cambridge-based Healx, who will now be able to harness and apply the benefit of genomics and AI to benefit hitherto under-served patient groups.
As a final example, the additional understanding of the microbiome as it relates to pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of therapeutics that will arise from institutions such as the Quadram Institute and their neighbours in Norwich, will enable future health and wellbeing advances as well as precision medicine development.
Whilst Cambridge remains the jewel in the cluster’s crown, it is evident how the wider region combines to advance scientific understanding, increase our innovation capacity and attract global investment into new treatments and health technologies.
In terms of One Nucleus, we are very proud to be based here and will be championing, connecting and supporting the region wherever possible. Leveraging our investment in a new website and contact management system we will continue our work with a focus on bringing together great science and technology, talent and investment through our events, online portal and collaborations.
Discovering new medicines has always been challenging, yet persistence, creativity and dealing with regulatory change are common characteristics among researchers, entrepreneurs and their investors so I feel our sector is well placed to face any challenge.
The maturing development pipeline, the positive mood music that we’ll see active M & A and perhaps IPO traffic through 2019 for investors and the continuing advancement in the areas of science that were only recently in their infancy, lends me to believe we are indeed on the cusp of delivering on that promise.