On 14 October, the BIA hosted its annual Bioscience Forum event. I was very pleased to attend in person (a novelty given the past 18 months).
We started the day with a speech from George Freeman MP, minister for Science, Research and Innovation. Playing well to the audience, his speech highlighted how fundamental the Life Sciences sector is for the UK economy, noting how so far this year the sector has already raised £2.8 billion (which is ten times the amounts raised in 2012). He celebrated the change being driven in the industry by genomics and informatics and the roll out of genomic medicine across the NHS. He spoke about the opportunity the UK now has to set its own regulatory strategy in areas such as AI, genomics, cannabinoids, agri-environment and nutraceuticals (all of which were discussed in the recent TIGRR report which presented opportunities for the UK to change its approach to regulation post-BREXIT). He finished by setting out his vision of how the UK can match its "Science Superpower" status by becoming an "Innovation Nation".
One of the consistent themes of the day was the intersection between the biotech and tech worlds. The use of data has become increasingly important in healthcare and in recent years we have seen a huge amount of innovation from data driven companies in the life science space. As the BIA notes in its recent Tech Bio report, the use of this data driven technology is central to the UK Government's Life Sciences Vision (published in July this year). Particularly interesting was the panel session which discussed how we can deliver on the promises of data technology for UK bioscience. Panellists from Synthace, KQ Labs/Francis Crick Institute, Jiva.ai and Palantir had some great insights on the differing business models used by tech investors (more agile, looking for quicker returns) compared to traditional pharma (more risk averse, taking a longer term view) and the impact that was having on the emerging data driven biotech companies. There was a view that tech investors are rapidly moving into this space and that biotech investors need to act fast to ensure they don't miss out.
The day was rounded off by a key note speech from Jonathan Milner, founder of the Cambridge headquartered global life sciences company Abcam. Milner took us on a whistle-stop journey though the last 40 years of biotech discovery. From the discovery of DNA and the revolutions in epigenetics, modified RNA, cell therapy, immunotherapy, drug discovery, AI and genome sequencing, ending with a discussion of the coming "healthspan" revolution. Healthspan (or longevity) is certainly going to be a big growth area in years to come with billions being poured into the space.
Overall it was an energising day and emphasised just how exciting it is to be working in the life sciences industry at the moment. This year's focus on data driven technology ties in very nicely with our own upcoming Life Sciences Summit ("Trust me, I'm an algorithm" Is AI the future of healthcare?). We have a great speaker line-up planned and, if you're interested in AI or the intersection of tech and healthcare, I'd encourage you to sign up here: https://www.bristows.com/life-sciences-summit-2021/
The last 18 months have seen significant changes in the life sciences sector. While the COVID crisis has led to global challenges and immense suffering, it has also borne technological and scientific acceleration and development, a new global and national focus on drug discovery and healthcare as a priority, and new opportunities for companies in the life sciences sector – as outlined in the government’s Life Sciences Vision.