Optimum’s 15th Annual Healthcare Investor Conference: How can the UK better capitalise on its life sciences prowess?

‘How can the UK better capitalize on its life sciences prowess?’ was the first panel at Optimum’s 15th Annual Healthcare Conference.

Led by Chair Dan Mahony, UK Government Life Sciences Investment Envoy & Chair of BIA, the panel participants brought with them a wealth of experience: Annalisa Jenkins, Non-Executive Director, Genomics England; Allan Marchington, Managing Director, ICG; and Gil Bar-Nahum, Managing Director, Jefferies International.

Starting with the positives, the UK’s unique ability to generate data is a strength and the panel remained optimistic that this will continue to provide a differentiated resource and ultimately improve how the industry can drive innovation in the sector. The brain power of the golden triangle – Oxford, Cambridge and London – provides a unique opportunity that arguably no other European country has. Combined with the integrity and track record that the UK has historically demonstrated, this makes the UK a formidable force.

The strength of management teams in the UK has also been improving over the years as the ecosystem has evolved, there is the opportunity to find great CEOs to drive the success of UK born life sciences companies.

Capital flows into the UK create opportunities and challenges, but how do we make it easier for this capital to flow without barriers? Helping start-ups get up the learning curve and accessing the right sort of capital at the right time is important, as is finding the right advisors. The government has a huge role to play in this, with an increasing understanding that they can act as enablers by implementing incentives to create the right ecosystem, thereby creating an attractive environment. This should encourage US investors to establish businesses in the UK, bringing more capital with them.

As a nation that tends to be a bit ‘glass half empty’, the UK needs to stay competitive. There needs to be a collective level of ambition with longer term goals, which the government needs to focus on. Longer-term incentivisation and making the broader tax environment attractive is key, as is ensuring that the country’s ability to run clinical trials effectively is maintained.

There are challenges with this, given the pressures that the NHS is under and the impact that Brexit has had on workforce recruitment and the ability of the NHS to deliver clinical research. One solution is that mixed funding models for clinical research facilities should be established. Working with the private sector could improve NHS working conditions, which are currently a major cause of staff leaving the NHS, taking the capacity and skills to run clinical research with them.

The government needs to create an environment that is attractive to investors and encourages entrepreneurship, speaking the language of partnership and collaboration that will send a message that the UK is open for business and is a welcoming place for companies.

In conclusion, although the UK life sciences sector is faced with many challenges, with an ambitious and open ecosystem, an acceptance that success is okay and that taking risks does result in reward, the UK can truly become a life sciences capital powerhouse.