That was the year that was

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Chris Doherty, Managing Director, Alderley Park

Genesis represents the last big industry gathering of the year in the UK and the delegates attending the Winners and Losers of 2017 session which formally opens the conference will have plenty to mull over.

As a whole pharma can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s been a good year for approvals and fundraising. Over the past 12 months the headlines have been driven by the FDA’s approval of  40 novel drugs, up from 22 in 2016. On a global scale, indicators such as the level of biotech fundraising and the number of IPOs have been broadly positive. In the UK this included Destiny Pharma, which successfully listed in September, raising £15.3m.

What’s more, life science venture capital funding and secondary offerings are on track to meet or surpass 2016 figures.  A recent snapshot offered by the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Informa Pharma intelligence demonstrated this, based on figures for the first half of 2017. The data will be updated in January 2018 but the picture is encouraging. Despite our pending Brexit, UK biotech continues to dominate venture capital funding in Europe and is placed third globally, raising £361.4 million. Seed, second round and later funding were all on track to meet or surpass last year’s figures.  As BIA CEO Steve Bates commented, it is encouraging to see UK companies maturing and attracting later round venture capital funding.

From our perspective – enthusiasm is fired by the reality of working on a daily basis with a rich variety of biotechs who are either starting up or scaling. We have backed our own confidence in the sector with a £160 million investment programme for Alderley Park, There are now over 2,000 people working at the site in Cheshire, about 1,000 of whom are scientists, which, we feel, shows what can be achieved if you create an effective ecosystem for sustainable economic growth.  Alderley Park now has 61 SMEs, plus other 150 others in start-up or virtual mode.

Within this group there are a number of contract research organisations (CROs) which are rapidly scaling - reflecting a much wider global trend. Once considered only in the guise of clinical trials and lab services, there’s now a huge CRO market around data and analytics for trial insights and design, drug development planning, safety, medical affairs and regulatory consulting from CROs.

The major trend is there for all to see: CROs are flourishing because of the simple fact that big pharma continues to downsize its internal R&D and to contract out what it regards as non-core activities. Focusing on what they regard as core competencies has become a powerful dynamic.  

In tandem, ambitious CROs have broadened their propositions to a more integrated offering to meet this demand.  Pharma wants to outsource bigger packages to fewer people - not least because it makes it easier to manage.

All of this has helped spawn a new generation of mid-size CROs in a market that was once characterised by global giants at one end of the spectrum - such as IQVIA, formerly Quintiles, and Covance - and very small businesses at the other, with not much in between.

We have experienced this first hand. A highlight of our year was having one of the UK’s fastest growing CROs establish a new operating base at Alderley Park. In September, Concept Life Sciences (CLS) took 12,400 sq ft of laboratory space in two different parts of our Mereside campus. CLS is a multi-faceted business, based around drug discovery, research and analytical services businesses. The move created 75 science jobs, including 55 medicinal chemists and biologists.

The business was only formed in 2014 and its core research and analytical insights are used across a wide range of sectors, including pharma, biotech, food, environmental and agrochemical. It has grown organically and by acquisition and now has over 700 employees.

Michael Fort, Executive Chairman of CLS, reflected at the time of the move: “Our expansion to the Mereside campus at Alderley Park is a pivotal step in the development of the group’s corporate and commercial profile to its international client base, opening new opportunities for collaboration and growth, markedly increasing the depth of our scientific offering and capitalising on Concept’s strong track record of delivery.”

Prior to this announcement we had Evotec AG relocate one of its major businesses, Cyprotex, from Macclesfield to Alderley Park. The move consolidated Cyprotex's UK operations into a single, state-of-the-art facility which is providing the facilities that will help the business continue to flourish. Cyprotex took 24,750 sq ft of office and laboratory space to accommodate all 106 of Cyprotex's current UK staff.

The growth in the market has encouraged a new generation of entrants. At Alderley Park, this includes ApconiX, an integrated toxicology and ion channel businesses, which were delighted to see recently acknowledged as Start Up of the Year 2017 by the North of England industry group Bionow. Others in this new wave include businesses like Alderley Analytical,  which provides bioanalytical services and Gentronix, a specialist in early screening and regulatory genotoxicity assays.

New trends have also emerged. We are all witnessing the relentless rise of information technology and digital health, which is impacting clinical trials. The need to make data-driven decisions and elevate the quality of trials by leveraging technology is evident. In particular, data mining of complex trial data is attracting great interest. Before one or two endpoints were likely to be investigated. The net is now cast much wider, and CROs are there to fish around complex clinical trial outcomes.  

Above all else, there is a strong pressure to do everything more efficiently. This driver has encouraged big pharma to engage CROs earlier in the development process, and to take a more holistic R&D approach. In tandem with this, CROs have been coming up with new ways to support biopharma’s efforts to re-evaluate traditional models and core competencies - and consider new operational, organisational and partnership-based approaches.

The end goal is what we all want for 2018 – win-win solutions and breakthroughs in research and development.

To meet with the Alderley Park team at Genesis 2017, click here.

Katie Droogan