Cultivating UK Life Sciences Collaboration and Innovation

2021‘s Pharmaceutical Industry Network Group (PING) conference focused on the UK’s COVID-19 response and how it can continue as a leader in science innovation and collaboration, including opportunities through use of health and genomic data.

Leading UK pharma experts discussed the future of life sciences through innovation and collaboration at the 2021 Pharmaceutical Industry Network Group (PING) Conference.

Led by VWV law firm’s specialist Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences sector in conjunction with IQVIA and supported by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, the conference focused on the UK’s COVID-19 response and how it can continue as a leader in science innovation and collaboration, including opportunities through use of health and genomic data.

Life sciences vision

Pfizer UK Country Manager and ABPI President, Ben Osborn, talked through the development of the COVID-19 vaccine brought to market to reach patients globally at unprecedented speed than ever before. Shared mission and value have enabled the life sciences industry to work collaboratively in developing the vaccine, whilst managing risk and ensuring healthcare equitable access at all levels. Ben said that “there has never been a more exciting time for life sciences and the opportunity to bring breakthroughs to change patients‘ lives. The Government’s ‘Life Sciences Vision’ gives a bold ambition, so we must all now partner and translate words into meaningful action.”

The Office for Life Sciences Head of Strategy, Alex Mclaughlin, provided his thoughts on the ‘Life Sciences Vision’ explaining that “it sets out how through working in partnership, Government, NHS, the sector and academia can create real value for industry and better treatments and technologies for patients. It's an exciting time for life sciences, and the UK is uniquely placed to innovate and lead the way. The Government is determined to work with partners from right across the sector to realize the ambitions of the Vision.”

Claire Foreman, the Director of Medicines Policy and Strategy at NHS England also discussed the support for adoption of medicines throughout the NHS and the Innovative Medicines Fund amongst other changes in medicines priorities, including opportunities for re-purposing medicines.

The power of collaboration

CEO of the Institute for Collaborative Working, Claire Ward, expressed that “the value of structured collaborative working is having a plan that can support organizations to build sustainable relationships. During COVID-19, the pharmaceutical sector has shown the value of working together; the task now is to embed attitudes and behaviors that can sustain long term collaborative relationships across all parts of the industry.”

Malcolm Skingle CBE, GlaxoSmithKline’s Director Academic Liaison, also mentioned that ”I‘ve seen for years that collaborations are the way to go for pharma — whether with others in pharma or with academia. The pandemic has shown the importance of collaborations. The Vaccine Taskforce achieved their incredible feats through collaborating. Working together to get the best skills together has never been more important.”

From an academia perspective, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Innovation at University of Oxford, Chas Bountra OBE, commented that "we're facing many global healthcare challenges. No one institution has all the necessary expertise or infrastructure or resources. The only way we are going to tackle these is through collaboration - collaboration amongst universities, with industry, with governments, with regulators, with policy makers and with other countries."

VWV's Corporate Partner, Richard Phillips, also highlighted "what a great panel session at the PING 2021 Conference on collaboration with inciteful views on how far it has come, with mindset and attitude instrumental in making collaborative working a success. Getting the contract structure right are tremendously important, though, to ensure parties are clear on their roles and objectives and to plan for the future at the outset. There were some great examples of how effective collaboration can be."

Health and genomic data in drug discovery

Professor Joanne Hackett, Head of Genomic and Precision Medicine at IQVIA, highlighted that “the future for data is a game changer — both genomic and healthcare data. However, the key will be making sure the data is well curated in order to achieve the potential.”

Health Data Research UK’s CEO, Caroline Cake, explained how “health data research has enabled some of the most important discoveries about COVID-19 and been a key component of the UK’s understanding of and response to the pandemic. There is now a fantastic opportunity to build on this momentum and collaboration in the sector to accelerate our work, making large scale datasets safely available for research, to enable discoveries across the spectrum of health conditions, from cancer to rare diseases.”

Founder & CEO of Genomics PLC, Sir Peter Donnelly, also commented how ”it’s 21 years this year since the announcement of the completion of the draft human genome. I'm now really excited that the field has matured so it can have a major impact on drug discovery and healthcare. It's great to see the UK at the forefront of these opportunities.”

But a new attitude towards drug development already seems to have taken hold. During the Conference, Dr Kirsty Wydenbach, Expert Medical Assessor at the MHRA, discussed how “the MHRA ambition is about putting patients first, becoming a truly world-leading, enabling regulator and protecting public health through excellence in regulation and science. Support for innovation is a key part of that ambition. We want to hear from researchers and developers early so we can help them stay on track, and so we can learn and become an even more industry-friendly regulator.”

Trade deals

Andrew Howard, Deputy Director for Trade, Regulation and Analysis at The Office for Life Sciences, touched on the UK‘s challenges and opportunities in trade deals for Britain stating that “the last few years have been a time of great change, but there are many opportunities for Global Britain in life sciences. The UK has a pioneering regulator, leading academia, a single healthcare system and a strong biopharma sector, as well as a coherent vision for the sector that supports exciting new specialist areas. Having built on existing global relationships, we're now fully focused on nurturing new ones.”

Read more about the conference here. To find out more about PING, click here.

PING Chair Paul Gershlick is Partner and Head of Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences at VWV Watford.