Top Takeaway’s from Optimum’s 15th Annual Healthcare Investor Conference 2023

Last week, Optimum held its 15th Annual Healthcare Investor Conference – marking its crystal anniversary – and what a sparkler it was!

As soon as the clock struck 12, attendees started pouring into the Wellcome Collection venue. Had they heard champagne was to be served, and didn’t want to miss out? Maybe. Did they want to catch a glimpse of Chris Whitty before he started asking for his slides? Perhaps. More likely they wanted to network, catch-up, and just plain gossip with fellow life science bosses and investors.

And who can blame them? With a series of high-profile events in London such as the LSX and Jefferies conferences just a few weeks away, Optimum’s shindig offers a perfect opportunity to make contacts, mull over the state of the market, and of course discuss potential deals, all in a relaxed setting.

Only a little herding was needed to prompt attendees to take their seats in the 154-seater Henry Wellcome Auditorium for our first discussion, titled How can the UK better capitalise on its life sciences prowess? The esteemed four-person panel – Dan Mahony, chair of the BIA and the UK Government’s life sciences adviser; Annalisa Jenkins, non-executive director at Genomics England; Allan Marchington, managing director of ICG; and Gil Bar-Nahum, managing director of Jefferies International – gave us an hour’s frank, robust and balanced conversation on both the cons and the pros of building a business east of The Pond (or, indeed, north of The Channel). Yes, there are workforce challenges, they noted. Clinical trials do seem more difficult to run now that the NHS is under such pressure. But first-class minds and first-class data remain big draws, the panel said, adding with relief that both main political parties now appear to recognise how vital the sector is to the future of UK PLC.

In the second of our presentations, Novo Holdings’ CEO Kasim Kutay gave his thoughts on leading the organisation at a time it is flush with cash from the success of Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster obesity drugs, Wegovy and Ozempic. In a fireside chat with Clive Cookson, senior science writer at the FT, Kutay outlined how Novo Holdings now oversees a portfolio worth US$30 billion, invested roughly half in life sciences and half in other areas. NH is rapidly expanding its investments in bio-industrials, he said, meaning companies which harness biological processes to make more environmentally-friendly industrial products.

After a break for tea and biscuits, the audience settled down for the conference’s keynote speech by Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England. Familiar to millions across the UK for his unflappable demeanor during the darkest hours of the Covid pandemic, Prof Whitty needed no introduction. He launched into a fascinating and fact-filled presentation (with slides) outlining the health of the UK population – past, present and future. Optimum’s Nick Bastin, joined by members of the audience, then asked Prof Whitty for his thoughts on what levers he thinks need pulling to support UK life sciences. His prescription was precise and practical. As with all four of the day’s panels, we will be publishing a summary on Optimum’s website soon.

The final panel discussed the subject Navigating turbulent markets in front of a still packed house. When will public markets start to bounce back after their two-year slump? How are companies that went public at the peak of exuberance now faring? How can private companies in the UK and Europe best tap into investment? Stateside, how have recent FDA decisions and the imminent Inflation Reduction Act (dubbed the “Innovation Reduction Act” by one delegate) changing the appetite for investment? Linden Thomson, fund manager at AXA Investments; Naveed Siddiqi, senior partner at Novo Holdings; Geraldine O’Keefe, partner at EQT Life Sciences; and Joe Anderson, partner at Sofinnova Partners, gave the appreciate audience numerous valuable insights about how to steer a safe passage through difficult waters.

Before moving to the champagne reception, kindly sponsored by ICG and Cooley, Stephanie Seales Gabbitas and Charley Scott of Optimum’s featured charity Ariana Smiles gave a heart-warming presentation. Three years ago, Stephanie’s daughter Ariana was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) at just five years old, leading to a long and difficult treatment journey – but one through which Ariana was determined to smile. Ariana Smiles, a named charity of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaeima Group (CCLG), aims to fund research into genomics to help enable children with cancer to receive more targeted and less toxic treatments. If you didn’t get around to it on the day, you can find out more here and donate here.

Finally, we at Optimum would like to thank everyone who contributed to the day – to the amazing speakers, to the staff at the Wellcome Collection who assisted with logistics and catering, to our supporters and sponsors, and of course to all our attendees. In the end, a conference is only as good as the people who turn up – and we think you were great.

Rest assured, we are already planning next October’s conference. Until then, we very much hope you enjoyed this year’s event.