Over the past three years, the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) and MedCity have led a project funded by Research England to supercharge cross-cluster innovation and investment activity. The diverse programme of joint work supports implementation of the UK Industrial Strategy and has included building the UK’s profile in emerging markets and enabling industry-academic collaborations in diagnostics and advanced therapies. A highlight of the project has been connecting investors and innovators across regional borders through two investor-focused events – one held in Leeds last year and the other in London earlier this month at The Crick, the UK Life Sciences Investment Summit 2023. The objective was to bring innovation agencies and investors together from across the UK to facilitate knowledge exchange and connectivity, highlighting the strengths of each region while addressing common challenges and opportunities.
The London summit in particular demonstrated the dynamism of clusters in providing a neutral platform for assembling actors from across the ecosystem, and from across the UK, to engage in the current conversations relevant to life sciences investment and innovation. Hosted by MedCity and the NHSA with funding from Research England, the event was supported by cluster organisations Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland (HIRANI) and Midlands Innovation.
Influential keynote speakers Dame Kate Bingham, Office for Life Sciences deputy director Alex Mclaughlin, and The Crick’s entrepreneur-in-residence Barbara Domayne Hayman set the scene for four panels of key opinion leaders who shared views and recommendations for the UK life sciences sector.
Panel 1 voiced investor perspectives in the UK’s prevailing economic and policy climate, from areas of opportunity in techbio, synthetic biology, AI-driven modalities and diagnostics to the imperative for government to unlock pension funds for life sciences investment. Panellist Dr Andy Richards CBE, a director of Cancer Research Horizons and the Scale-up Institute and chair of several biotech companies, reflected: “During times of rapid dynamic change, it is key to the health of the ecosystem that thoughtful insights on trends in the environment and particularly the financing environment, are shared widely. The UK Life Sciences Investment Summit achieved this with the diversity of attendees and the geographic reach back through their organisations being particularly gratifying. Whilst the financing climate is clearly tough, our lively panel discourse, distilled out practical and positive suggestions that will undoubtably contribute towards sector success and impact.”
The second panel tackled how to accelerate innovation within the NHS. Prioritising low complexity, high volume technologies was a common thread. Wrapping services around the technology was identified as just as important as the tech itself to enable adoption. The scaling of remote monitoring, bolstered by pan-ICS commissioning, was a trend observed by several panellists, along with increasing interest in robotics and automation of processes that are time-consuming. “It was great to hear from innovators and the NHS about how they are scaling solutions in the NHS with global potential,” commented pannelist Anna King, Commercial Director, Health Innovation Network.
One of the day’s high points was panel three on Increasing Investment into Underrepresented Founders. Panellists were unified in the message that investing in diverse founders, and in diverse teams, led to bigger business rewards and social impact. Start Codon CEO Jason Mellad revealed that more than 50% of the venture builder’s targets had female founders, not by design but as a consequence of choosing the best science. Panellists agreed on the importance of leaning into existing initiatives to enhance investment into underrepresented founders, rather than start from scratch. They called on the audience, whether investors or stakeholders from other parts of the ecosystem, to become allies in helping to inform investor behaviour and in actively supporting and enabling more diversity in leadership sector wide.
Closing out the day’s discussions, panel 4 dissected the role of life science clusters in facilitating UK trade and investment. MedCity CEO Neelam Patel noted the unique ability of the cluster organisation to bring ecosystem actors together, in a trusted non-competitive arena, in order to catalyse economic and innovation growth. “One of MedCity’s remits was is to bring together the four major London universities to represent a unified London offer. That is difficult to do and requires a neutral platform,” Neelam said. That neutrality also facilitates connectedness with other clusters across the UK for national innovation and the benefit of the entire sector, including mapping out areas of excellence and avoiding the duplication that happens when “everyone is doing everything everywhere.”
“A connected ecosystem keeps us at the forefront of global life sciences,” said fellow panellist said Joann Rhodes, CEO of HIRANI. The connections between the cross-regional clusters demonstrates the unique strengths each can contribute – and highlights the value of core public funding for clusters as credible, honest brokers to spread knowledge, build trust and maintain collaborative relationships.”
Séamus O’Neill, Chief Executive of the NHSA, said: This event demonstrated what working together with Clusters on shared big-ticket issues can achieve. The UK is a global leader in Life Science research and innovation and by working together as clusters to bring our regional assets to bear, will we maintain and improve our global standing. There is more to be done on the movement of capital within the UK to ensure that great ideas can succeed wherever they come from. We look forward to continuing to work with the other UK clusters to position the UK as the global innovation partner of choice for Life Sciences.”
Dr Helen Turner, director of Midlands Innovation, summed up the experience: “By building stronger relationships within the health and life science investment infrastructure across the UK, this nationally important event delivered an exciting demonstration of the power of effectively networked clusters. We look forward to continuing to work with the regional life science clusters to showcase these opportunities as they progress and influence future investment prospects for the region.”
To experience highlights of the day’s event with commentary from speakers and panellists, watch the video of the UK Life Sciences Innovation Summit https://youtu.be/jXHRh1Yc-0U
To see the day’s agenda, the speaker and panellist line-up and their bios, view the programme here: https://www.medcityhq.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/UK-Life-Sciences-Investment-Summit-2023.pdf
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