Sat. May 28th, 2022

The author was chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce and is a managing partner of SV Health Investors

The emergence of a new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is an advent gift that no one wants. But we do not face it unarmed.

Unlike last Christmas, we now have a well-advanced vaccine and booster program in the UK. A recent study published in The Lancet shows that the third vaccine gives a significant immune boost, which significantly increases the antibody levels. If everyone comes forward, even if Omicron proves to be highly transmissible, people need to be protected from serious diseases.

We are in this strong position because the government has set up the Vaccine Task Force and provided funding for the industry to develop vaccines quickly. The Regulatory Agency for Medicines and Healthcare Products has moved mountains to obtain prompt regulatory approval. Volunteers from the new 500 0000 strong NHS digital database joined clinical trials at record speed.

Covid has taken a terrible toll, but has given us a lot to be proud of: not only the heroism of frontline workers, but also a new entrepreneurial drive and collaboration between academics, investors, public health, major pharmaceuticals and innovative small companies in the race for a vaccine.

The resulting success is the first of many breakthroughs in biomedicine: innovative drugs and treatments we develop in the UK will have a global benefit. I just need to look at SV Health Investors for evidence of how biotechnology is soaring. Our UK-based biotechnology companies have raised a remarkable $ 900 million from international investors this year, underscoring the country’s status as a biotechnology powerhouse.

Last week, global life sciences leaders gathered at the SV annual forum at the Francis Crick Institute: the CEOs, R&D and commercial leaders of major pharmaceutical companies along with innovators, academics and regulators. The conversation was about speed, collaboration and mutual support, large and small businesses, private sector and public health working together.

Pharmaceutical giants eagerly offer their resources to small businesses. Scientists acknowledge that they need industrial scale and expertise to get laboratory breakthroughs from bank to bed. Such collaboration will enable us to tackle other health crises, from cancer to heart disease, obesity and dementia.

Investing is not just about choosing existing companies for profit. Good venture capitalism builds companies from the bottom up and, in the case of biotechnology, develops medicines that deliver public goods with profit.

The UK is in an excellent position. By listing directly on public exchanges such as the Nasdaq, our biotechnology can now access global capital that will drive global innovation. The MHRA is highly respected internationally, accelerating the process of gaining worldwide approval for new drugs. And with electronic NHS health records of 65 million people, we have a population-scale digital database that gives us a unique ability to evaluate the effectiveness of medicines.

The success of the Covid vaccines – and of new drugs to treat those who do get sick – shows what we can achieve in the right conditions. Science and industry must work closely together to make the UK the best place to test and test products, using new technologies to get diagnosis and treatment right for the first time, underpinned by an ever-improving genomic and health data infrastructure .

Politicians must continue to fund the world-class science and clinical research capabilities that have proven so important. Innovation does not come from the government, but from the private sector. The government can spur the process by proving a reliable partner and by supporting companies that manufacture new medicines, create jobs and manufacture capacity.

Covid is not leaving. But by investing to protect ourselves from these and future threats, we can turn their legacy into something positive.

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