Arttia Creative – Associate insight
Dr Dale Athey builds connections between people, enterprises, and markets. He has extensive experience in strategy development, business development and implementation in research and technology-intensive businesses. His credible scientific and commercial background enables him to communicate effectively across teams and at all levels. This combined with his experience of working within small and large corporates and in founding and growing his own life science companies enables him to develop strong and lasting relationships with clients.
2020 has been a momentous year by any measure. The global Life Sciences community was in the spotlight as never before. At time of writing the MHRA have just announced the approval of the Oxford-AZ vaccine, bringing genuine hope of a way out of the pandemic. However, this positive development also coincides with the news that our NHS is once again at a critical stage, with infection rates rising rapidly, driven by a new variant of the virus.
The speed at which the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry (supported by public and academic research) have developed these vaccines is truly staggering.
Behind the headlines there has been an unprecedented international collaborative effort. In the UK Life Sciences investments in years prior to the crisis, has enabled the biomanufacturing community to respond in a co-ordinated and rapid fashion.
The work of the UK Bioindustry Association (BIA) in bringing together the key stakeholders from public and private sector through initiatives such as the medicines manufacturing industry partnership (MMIP) has paved the way.
The response, culminating in the vaccine announcement, demonstrates the value of such investment in our key industries. We need to ensure that the current high profile and demonstrable impact can be built upon with continued investment such that we are even better prepared for future challenges, of which there will be many.
Bad blood to good saliva
The pandemic has provided the platform for renewed interest and a resurgence in public and investor confidence in the diagnostics industry.
Not so long ago Theranos and their enigmatic founder Elizabeth Holmes were being touted as leading a revolution in diagnostic testing. This sobering tale was documented by John Carreyou of the Wall Street Journal in his book ‘Bad Blood’.
Holmes claimed to have devised blood tests that required a tiny amount of blood and could be performed rapidly using small automated devices. The company raised over $10Bn, but claims were subsequently proved false, and the founders are currently indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges.
While the premise was good – low cost, widely accessible blood testing –their fraudulent activities placed a massive dent in public confidence in the diagnostics industry, and deterred investment in the sector. Fast-forward to 2020, and it now seems a distant memory.
The global diagnostics industry - traditionally playing a ‘Cinderella role’ – has a chance to emerge from the shadow of pharma to show its true value.
Organisations such as FIND, a global non-profit organization driving innovation in the development and delivery of diagnostics to combat major diseases affecting the world’s poorest populations, are playing a major co-ordination role.
There are over one thousand diagnostic tests for COVID-19 either in development or on the market Saliva based PCR and rapid lateral flow test for COVID-19 are now being rolled out at scale, manufactured by credible and experienced companies.
Who would have thought that we would move from a situation where those of us in the industry were having to explain what we did, to a situation where everyone is talking about ‘lateral flow’ tests like an expert. From the dark days of Theranos, diagnostics have rightfully regained a position of value in the Life Sciences.
The pandemic has also turbo-charged the move a connected health system, with the patient at the centre. The need to perform medical tests at scale outside of the traditional laboratory or hospital setting has been critically highlighted.
This is vital not only for early diagnosis of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, but also to predict, detect and manage other diseases and chronic conditions. By April 2020, 60% of major pharma companies were using telemedicine for trial visits in response to COVID-19.
The coming months will determine the extent to which the full potential of connected health is realised after the crisis has passed, but the opportunities are there to be grasped and this could have major implications for future healthcare provision.
New business models will emerge and there will be greater interaction between the Tech, Healthcare, Device and Life Sciences communities across the globe.
Expect to see hear a lot more about telehealth, connected health, digital health and mHealth in 2021.
Meanwhile back in the lab
The pandemic has meant an emphasis on infectious disease diagnostics, therapies and vaccines. However, we should not forget the continuous innovation taking place in the Life Sciences.
The bounce-back will unlock further investment and growth. There have been major developments in the wider bioeconomy in areas such medicine manufacturing, food, biochemicals, fuels and biomaterials.
These will result in new companies, new jobs and contribute to our sustainable and healthy future.
Challenge bring opportunity
Addressing the global challenges in areas such as ageing society, anti-microbial resistance, climate change, requires a healthy and vibrant bioeconomy.
Like the Coronavirus, these challenges do not recognise borders, and require international co-operation. While the pandemic has highlighted deficiencies and gaps, it has also highlighted the opportunities for the Life Sciences industry going forward.
The industry has never had a higher profile or been more relevant. Biotech is proving an attractive destination for investors as traditional sectors continue to suffer with the market disruption brought about by COVID-19.
A recent BIA report showed biopharma and healthcare as one of the few economic sectors to have largely escaped the global downturn, offering the opportunity for investors to reap financial returns from investing in UK biotech.
Such continued research and commercial investment and skills development will deliver significant impact in our ability to work with international partners, rise to the challenges and grasp those opportunities.
We thank Dale for his thoughtful and exciting insight into the life sciences sector for this coming year. Global challenges will continue and we know the life sciences, the scientific community and biotech and health tech innovators will, as always, rise to these challenges.
If you have a challenge we can help with, let's talk.
Belinda White | Creative Director