Conference hears about the role of life sciences in a changed world
The theme of the 12th Pharmaceutical Industry Network Group (PING) Conference was 'UK Life Sciences - Opportunities in a Changed World' ...
The conference, organised by VWV law firm's specialist pharmaceuticals and life sciences sector and held virtually in conjunction with IQVIA, gave delegates plenty of food for thought about the part the life sciences industry could play over the next few years.
Ben Osborn, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, emphasised the importance of having a shared mission and direction and understanding the concept of risk and the need to ensure that science is valued at all levels.
“There has never been a more exciting time for life sciences and the opportunity to bring breakthroughs to change patients' lives. The government’s 'Life Sciences Vision' gives a bold ambition, so we must all now partner and translate words into meaningful action," he said.
The government's 'Life Sciences Vision' published this year provides a 10-year blueprint to act as the key driver for sector growth in the 21st century and keep the UK ahead of the field. The Office for Life Sciences head of strategy, Alex Mclaughlin, said: "The Life Sciences Vision sets out how through working in partnership, government, NHS, the sector and academia can create real value for industry and better treatments and technologies for patients. It's an exciting time for life sciences, and the UK is uniquely placed to innovate and lead the way. The government is determined to work with partners from right across the sector to realise the ambitions of the vision."
Building on the NHS Long Term Plan with a focus on population health and working with integrated care systems, the NHS can be a driver for innovation. The Innovative Medicines Fund is another committed government manifesto to fast-track promising new drugs. Meanwhile, repurposing medicines, as was seen with the discovery in the NHS of the use of the steroid dexamethasone to treat Covid-19 patients during the pandemic, shows what opportunities there are.
These are areas that Claire Foreman, director of medicines policy and strategy at NHS England and Improvement, will be focusing on, to explore what can be done through innovation and also through working with what we already have, thus improving the life sciences sector's delivery of treatments for patients.
Not only is the government focusing on UK life sciences plans and policies, it is also prioritising rolling over existing international agreements as well as entering into new ones. Deals with Indo-Pacific life sciences relations including Singapore, Vietnam, Canada and Mexico are being prioritised, while new post-Brexit agreements with Australia and New Zealand are now in place.
Andrew Howard, deputy director for trade, regulation and analysis at the Office for Life Sciences, talked about the UK's priorities in trade deals, as well as the challenges and opportunities for Britain. He mentioned how "the last few years have been a time of great change, but there are many opportunities for global Britain in life sciences."
He added: "The UK has a pioneering regulator, leading academia, a single healthcare system and a strong biopharma sector, as well as a coherent vision for the sector that supports exciting new specialist areas. Having built on existing global relationships, we're now fully focused on nurturing new ones."
Cultivating Scientific Collaboration
The vaccination roll-out has shown how collaborations have come of age. There is more happening, with bigger plans and larger projects and collaboration is key to accelerating innovations.
Claire Ward, the CEO of the Institute for Collaborative Working, said: "The value of structured collaborative working is having a plan that can support organisations to build sustainable relationships. During Covid-19, the pharmaceutical sector has shown the value of working together; the task now is to embed attitudes and behaviours that can sustain long term collaborative relationships across all parts of the industry."
From an academia perspective, Chas Bountra, the pro-vice chancellor for innovation at the University of Oxford, said: "We're facing many global healthcare challenges. No one institution has all the necessary expertise or infrastructure or resources. The only way we are going to tackle these is through collaboration - collaboration amongst universities, with industry, with governments, with regulators, with policy makers and with other countries."
Malcolm Skingle, GSK's director academic liaison, said: "I've seen for years that collaborations are the way to go for pharma - whether with others in pharma or with academia. The pandemic has shown the importance of collaborations. The Vaccine Taskforce achieved their incredible feats through collaborating. Working together to get the best skills together has never been more important."
VWV's corporate partner Richard Phillips said: "What a great panel session at the PING 2021 Conference on collaboration with inciteful views on how far it has come, with mindset and attitude instrumental in making collaborative working a success. Getting the contract structure right are tremendously important, though, to ensure parties are clear on their roles and objectives and to plan for the future at the outset. There were some great examples of how effective collaboration can be."
The role of health data in drug discovery was also examined during the event. More importance has been placed on genomic and real-world health data in the life sciences sector. The delegates heard that the diversity of the data is a key challenge whilst at the same time decreasing health inequalities. UK Biobank is a global leader in genomic sequencing and Our Future Health is an exciting UK health research programme bringing people together to develop new ways to detect, prevent and treat diseases.
Professor Joanne Hackett, head of genomic and precision medicine at IQVIA, said: "The future for data is a game changer - both genomic and healthcare data. However, the key will be making sure the data is well curated in order to achieve the potential."
Health Data Research UK's CEO, Caroline Cake, said: "Health data research has enabled some of the most important discoveries about Covid-19 and been a key component of the UK’s understanding of and response to the pandemic. There is now a fantastic opportunity to build on this momentum and collaboration in the sector to accelerate our work, making large scale datasets safely available for research, to enable discoveries across the spectrum of health conditions, from cancer to rare diseases."
Sir Peter Donnelly, the founder and CEO of Genomics PLC, said: "It's 21 years this year since the announcement of the completion of the draft human genome. I'm now really excited that the field has matured so it can have a major impact on drug discovery and healthcare. It's great to see the UK at the forefront of these opportunities."
The Covid vaccine regulators
Delegates heard that regulators, led by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, have worked in innovative ways to approve medicines much quicker than normal while not compromising on assessing safety and efficacy.
Dr Kirsty Wydenbach, expert medical assessor at the MHRA, said: "The MHRA ambition is about putting patients first, becoming a truly world-leading, enabling regulator and protecting public health through excellence in regulation and science. Support for innovation is a key part of that ambition. We want to hear from researchers and developers early so we can help them stay on track, and so we can learn and become an even more industry-friendly regulator."
Summing up the event, VWV's PING chair and partner and head of pharmaceuticals and life sciences sector, Paul Gershlick, said: "The UK has led the way in so many areas through the pandemic through innovation and collaboration.
"With a forward-looking life sciences Vision, which gives a clear blueprint for continuing to do that and take a lead in addressing the other great health challenges, including through the strengths of the UK's world class academia, life sciences industry, regulator, and financial centre, Global Britain can continue to be at the hub of leading the way, including in the exciting opportunities through use of health and genomic data."
Nitin Dahad, Hertfordshire LEP board member and chair, enterprise and innovation board, said: "Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership is very proud of its long association with this event - it sends out a clear message that Hertfordshire and the UK is a very attractive place for our diverse life sciences industry to grow.
"The scale of that global ambition and the clear vision for the future was evidenced in today’s hugely exciting programme. We are proud to have played our part in bring considerable investment into the county to support the growth of its world-class cell and gene cluster which was celebrated today.”
The event was also supported by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.