The second fully virtual Bio Integrates Conference surpassed expectations, with over 450 delegates attending animated keynote speaker sessions and panel debates, addressing this year’s conference themes of Connection, Projection and Reflection.
In his opening remarks, Andy Richards, CBE echoed the words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – reflecting upon the past 18 months as
‘The best of times, the worst of times’.
Without doubt, the sector has found a deeper purpose and connection to society, with the intensity and pace of developments largely viewed as a huge positive. The business of healthcare has been catapulted into the digital age, with digital mental health, telemedicine, distributed working and clinical trials taking centre stage.
‘The best of times, the worst of times’.
“The number of investors taking an interest in healthcare has increased dramatically – many looking at our sector for the first time and from all corners of the globe”.
“Whilst recognising the positive outcomes of the pandemic, we need to give careful thought as to how we adapt to this new pace of life. We also need to think about how we can support research charities and others in the sector that have been decimated as a result of Covid-19”.
Ian McCubbin, OBE, manufacturing lead on the Government’s Vaccines Task Force, reflected upon “The incredible response of players in the life sciences ecosystem, who rose to the challenge of the pandemic with creativity and understanding; alongside the deep knowledge of academics and a receptive and understanding government intervention”.
'The incredible response of players in the life sciences ecosystem'
“The UK has a vibrant life sciences infrastructure, with a strong network of publicly supported facilities and privately funded industry start-ups. Collaboration between these two groups, puts us in a very strong position for future developments, an example of which is the establishment of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. Our future challenge is to ensure that collaboration becomes endemic and that we are prepared to think about new and innovative ways of financing our ecosystem”.
A number of conference sessions raised the topic of the skills shortage in UK life sciences. There was a general consensus that our ability to discover is better than our ability to ‘manufacture and roll out’ – we need to invest in school leavers seeking apprenticeships every bit as much as in heavy science.
Skills requirements was also featured in the talk given by Eliot Forster, CEO, F-star, who spoke about the future need for skills and knowledge in maths, programming and biology, in order to work with genomics data pools and genetic data. Eliot also emphasised the importance of clarity when communicating your offer as a life sciences company:
'future need for skills and knowledge'
“Without doubt, it has been a very positive year for financing in Biotech. For early-stage biotech companies the key question is ‘What is my point of differentiation?’ With so many SMEs making pitches for investment, it is essential to be clear about this. So many people present clinical data and expect investors to work it out for themselves.”
“This has been a remarkable year of transformation – looking forward can we, as a community, look at what has gone well and ensure that the ‘new normal’ factors in lessons learned? If we can have fantastic people and fantastic technologies, working smarter and harder, we will thrive”.
Soundbites from our speakers
Never let a crisis go to waste
Raising investment and meeting milestones is difficult enough in normal times. We hear from those who have thrived during the pandemic.
“In the investment world, Covid has highlighted the ability to be flexible and have contingency plans for additional cash. Yes, the perception of the sector has changed, and the number of investors has increased. Early industry surveys showed that operational risk was highest priority for investors, as well as the contingency use for cash”.
“We are always searching for great platform technologies – stellar teams and strong scientific co-founders at the pre-seed stage. We often bring in an experienced chair to mentor young teams and then bring in a CEO. We focus on an unmet market need – it is essential that companies understand the needs of the market and the competitive landscape”.
“The pandemic ultimately meant fewer person hours to do science. At PetMedix this meant we needed to focus and ultimately decide which experiments were essential. It was about finding a balance between parallel tracks to meet a milestone and not creating unnecessary work for ourselves.”
Mind the Gap
With increased public funding in coronavirus detection and vaccines and restrictions on EU funding, will there be a major gap in life science funding?
“The pandemic has significantly rescued the reputation of large pharma and has led to renewed confidence in the pharma model – something that we hope will change mindsets for the future. We are starting to see more millennials investing; particularly in tech innovation – it’s exciting to see a new generation entering into early-stage investment”.
“Innovate UK’s rapid response made a big difference to small companies. Covid has elevated the sector enormously and should be a positive impact for the sector in the longer term. It’s incredible what can be done when everyone focuses on one goal”.
“We have to respect the resilience, readiness and capacity of the UK R&D/Innovation community in its response to this crisis. Hundreds of millions of pounds were invested into one priority area”.
Planting the seed
What does it take to raise seed funding, and what do you need to demonstrate for angels/investors to part with their money?
“You need a five-minute elevator pitch. What is your concept and what are you going to solve? The people evaluating your project are scientists who speak your language; show proof of concept, show data and tell your story, but there is no need for a hard sell”.
“Clearly articulate your weakness, whilst being transparent about the competition”
“If you are looking to bring investors in, you need to think outside of the box. Accelerator programmes are excellent for meeting like-minded individuals going through the same experience. You need resilience, patience and persistence. Accept that people have their own demands and pressures – nothing is personal”
Recruit, reward, retain
Will Brexit limit the UK’s ability to recruit and retain talent? What areas of life science should we focus on for training and upskilling?
“Five years ago, employers differentiated with innovative rewards and employer branding. Employees today don’t join for a role; they want a career and need to understand the opportunities for progression in your business; expect to talk about a career plan”.
“In fast moving scale-up we can generate excitement around possibilities of growth; the challenge is delivering on that. How do we grow from 35 to 70 people, but maintain the culture of a founding biotech? How do we promote ourselves as the most exciting biotech in town?”
“It’s Important for millennials to see ‘people like me’ at the top of your business. Young people want to see a career for themselves and need to know that they will have access to senior positions at the top. It’s also important to work harder at removing perceived social barriers such as religion or politics”.
The team at Life Science Integrates (LSI) sincerely thank all this year’s speakers and sponsors for contributing towards such a rich and varied conference. “It is absolutely clear that so many individuals have been engaging and connecting to make things happen over the past year” said Samuel Thangiah, Co-Founder and Executive Director, LSI. “Coming together to voice our shared experiences has led to many additional conversations that will no doubt lead to new and exciting ventures over the coming months and years”.
“On-demand recordings for Bio Integrates 2021 are available and dates for Bio Integrates 2022 will be released soon. In the meantime, keep embracing change, connecting with colleagues and taking advantage of the window of opportunity to build upon the incredible things that you have achieved over the past year”.