• Staff writer

Positive results for British biotech

Updated: May 21, 2019

The British presence at Bio 2018 represents a formidable range of academic and industry expertise that underpins the UK life sciences sector

By Mike Cowley

The UK contingent at Bio 2018 is far removed from the once traditional image of the British business brigade complete with stiff upper lip or the bowler hatted, umbrella wielding London city gent stereotype (although some still exist).

For the UK life science sector today is cut from the same cloth as its American cousins “over the pond”, dynamic innovators, ready and willing to run out the red carpet in order to do deals.

The overall message they bring is that they represent a well-established sector which is making a significant contribution to economic growth in the UK – annual turnover of nearly $64bn, exports around $30bn – from over 5,000 companies employing 233,000 people.

And there is little doubt that British science has a history of changing the world with more than 80 Nobel prize-winning discoveries underpinning many of today’s leading biomedical products, technologies and applications.

Yet the UK is not resting on its laurels as what is known as “Bold Science” is thriving today. The UK Biobank for one is a unique data and research asset for the world with more than 500,000 participants. Meanwhile the 100,000 Genomes Project is paving the way for genomic medicine in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and the NHS’s own longitudinal patient data opens up a world of possibility for innovators.

When you add the fact that fiscal incentives make the UK one of the best places in the world to undertake R&D, clinical development and manufacturing, it makes a compelling case to do business with the UK life sciences sector.

Leading UK life science companies who are in Boston to do business include BenevolentAI, a world leader in Artificial Intelligence enabled drug development with a valuation of $2bn, with the majority of investors already coming from the United States.

The company’s current drug development portfolio demonstrates it can cut early stage drug discovery by four years and potentially deliver efficiencies in the entire drug development process of 60% against pharmaceutical industry averages – an industry that spends $180bn a year on R&D.

Its AI technology is being used to develop treatments to unmet patients’ needs across a wide range of diseases, including Motor Neuron, Parkinson’s, Glioblastoma and Sarcopenia.

Also part of the UK line-up is PsiOxus, the world leading cancer gene therapy company. With $75m in funding from investors including Imperial Innovations, it is in the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 league table which lists Britain’s private technology businesses with the fastest growing sales.

PsiOxus has developed viruses that can deliver medicine to cancer patients. Revenue from licensing its IP has grown by 120% to almost $12m in 2016 after securing a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The company’s success is based on discovering and developing innovative gene-based immuno-oncology treatments for solid tumors using its proprietary intravenously administered T-SIGn virus platform.

UK exhibitors who will be using Bio 2018 as a platform to launch new products include Exploristics which has made its name by simulating clinical trials on its software platform.

The company has chosen Boston to launch Kerus Cloud, the second generation of its software, which has already reduced development costs for one small biotech by $20m and slashed development time by up to five years.

And that’s why, the UK along with Boston and San Francisco, make up the top three global life science hubs.

Baroness Fairhead, Minister of State for the UK Department for International Trade, said:

“The strength of our life sciences sector continues to make the UK a compelling destination for inward investment and global talent. With more than 5,000 life sciences companies, and a vibrant culture of scientific innovation, our exceptional offer to the world as a global partner for trade and investment is clear. “I am looking forward to leading a strong delegation to Bio Conference 2018, showcasing our world leading capability to the United States of America – our single largest trading partner.”

Dundee bridges the gap between academia and drug development

Universities have always played a unique role in the life science sector either providing the research behind the innovations or acting as incubator for spin-out companies which constantly add to its numbers.

The Drug Development Unit (DDU) at the University of Dundee which will be partnering at Bio 2018 is unique in the UK in that it operates as a virtual standalone “biotech style” small molecule drug discovery organization, working across multiple disease indications, whilst coming under the umbrella of the university as a legal entity.

This makes it the only DDU of its type in the UK which, in turn, enables it to work in unfashionable areas such as tropical diseases, with one major delivery to date being a clinical candidate for malaria which is now in development with Merck KGaA.

Dundee DDU has also developed preclinical candidates for visceral leishmaniasis in partnership with GSK; three partnered projects with GSK and Pfizer; and assets licensed to enable the creation of three spin-out companies – Pacylex Pharmaceuticals, IOmet Pharma (recently acquired by Merck & Co.) and HepaRegeniX GmbH.

To underwrite this work, over the past 12 years the DDU has secured more than $142.6m funding from research grant/charitable funders and industry partnerships. This, in turn, allowed the DDU to attract management from senior positions in the pharmaceutical industry and build a team of over 95 translational scientists (medicinal chemists, DMPK scientists, computational chemists, and biologists) dedicated to the development of innovative medicines.

The state-of-the-art infrastructure for preclinical small molecule drug discovery has seen the DDU work in partnership with multiple academic institutions and industry partners including the University of Oxford, MRC Laboratories of Molecular Biology (LMB), University of Cambridge, GSK, AZ, Pfizer, Bayer and AbbVie amongst others.

The DDU’s strategic priority to 2020 is to continue to develop its position as a partner of choice for biopharma, product development partnerships (PDPs) and academic partners by continuing to deliver high-quality preclinical data packages and the de-risking of novel drug targets for diseases of unmet medical need.

“What happens is that we develop assets to a certain stage then either license to BioPharma or spin-out biotech companies to do the further development of them,” explains Dr. Julie Brady, who is in charge of business development for the DDU. “Essentially we bridge the gap between academic innovation and pharmaceutical development”

“Going to Bio2018 will allow us to talk to pharma and biotech companies about partnerships and enable us to look for VCs as investors.”

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