New report unveils a thriving service and supply sector for UK medicines discovery

Medicines Discovery Catapult

Driving innovation into state-of-the-art technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Complex Cell Models is key to maintaining the UK’s global competitiveness

Today (13th May 2019), Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association unveil their 2019 State of the Discovery Nation report, providing new insights into the UK’s growing medicines discovery industry.

The report reveals a thriving service and supply sector for the UK in addition to its R&D biotechs. It also highlights two breakthrough technologies set to influence the future of medicines discovery and maintain the UK’s global competitiveness.

The research found that service and supply companies account for 80% of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in UK medicines discovery, and 90% of employment. While 20% of companies are actively focussed on therapeutic product development.

With SMEs at the heart, UK medicines discovery is a large, diverse, vibrant and growing sector. This core biopharma sector alone increased turnover by £3.3bn and created 47 new businesses between 2016 and 2017.

Key insights from the report reveal:

  • 300 companies are focussed on discovering potential new medicines; 70% are working in the areas of cancer, anti-infectives and the central nervous system
  • 1,200 companies provide vital services and supplies
  • Despite their size, SMEs are a critical source of innovation for new medicines; 60% have fewer than 5 staff and 80% have fewer than 20 people within the company

In addition, the BIA’s benchmarking report showed that by 2025 the UK could support an additional:

  • 33,000 biotech jobs
  • 50 biotech companies at early clinical stage

The importance of companies working within the service and supply sector should not be underestimated, they are key to maintaining the UK’s global competitiveness in a sector that’s critical for UK plc. In 2015, the life sciences industry contributed £30.4 billion in UK GDP, supported 482,000 jobs and contributed £8.6 billion in taxes.

Service and supply companies are an essential part of the industry and include: contract research organisations (CROs), advisory services, consultants as well as organisations that provide to access to state-of-the-art technologies and laboratory capabilities.

They enable the sector to deliver discovery projects that are more predictive and improve R&D productivity, thereby attracting industry investment into R&D in the UK. Improved productivity is integral to the UK’s Industrial Strategy which aims to build a Britain fit for the future and raise total R&D investment to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Insights from the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Complex Cell Models (CCMs) reveal that the UK now has an opportunity to apply new cutting-edge science and technology to make medicines discovery more productive.

The report reveals that the medicines discovery community view AI as not only one of the current ‘hot areas’, but integral to improving medicines discovery decision making.

  • 90% of medicines discovery companies confirmed a need for AI
  • 75% of current AI spend is on data access, curation and data labelling
  • AI budgets are growing, but the industry is calling for benchmarks and comparisons between AI systems
  • Small companies prefer to sell their assets; large companies prefer embarking on partnerships

Medicines discovery generates a huge quantity of complex biological, chemical, clinical and safety information. Data science is critical to making the best decisions on which drugs to optimise or progress.

The report also reveals that Complex Cell Models (CCMs) are a trend to watch. They have great potential to make preclinical research more likely to predict a drug’s effects in clinical trials.

  • UK SMEs are asking for validation of CCMs
  • Engagement with regulators is vital to speed up the use of CCMs
  • Improving reproducibility and developing validation data are immediate priorities
  • Adoption is small-scale and experimental, with regulation the enabler for growth

CCMs, such as 3D biological models and testing systems using human tissue, can provide data that’s more relevant to patients than animal tests. Ultimately, they could replace traditional 2D cell cultures and animal testing in pre-clinical research.

Chris Molloy, Chief Executive Officer of Medicines Discovery Catapult, says:

“The UK should be proud of the vibrancy of its medicines discovery community and thriving service and supply sector. The UK cannot conduct medicines discovery without access to this diverse range of skills, technologies and expertise. It is vital that we maintain our global competitiveness and R&D services can be a major sector driving international trade. The report’s findings help shape our strategy at MDC and we will continue to strengthen R&D productivity to create new medicines for patients.”

Steve Bates OBE, Chief Executive Officer of the BioIndustry Association, says:

This report shines a light on a key but often overlooked group of companies vital to the life science ecosystem in the UK. Many virtual and small biotechs, as well as established global pharma players, rely on the expertise and capability of UK service providers. As such the economic benefit in jobs and growth in UK life science, especially outside the South East of England, is often delivered via sub-contracting and the provision of services. It’s vitally important policy makers understand this network and supply chain as we work together to deliver the UK life science industrial strategy.”

Dr Kath Mackay, Director – Ageing Society, Health & Nutrition, Innovate UK says:

“As this report shows, the UK is a global leader in developing medicines. By maintaining and building upon this leadership we can deliver real benefits to patients and for the economy. Innovate UK, working with its health catapults – Medicines Discovery and Cell and Gene Therapy – and now with the centres funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, it is bringing together researchers and entrepreneurs to rise to the health challenges of now and those of the future.”

Today’s report provides confidence that a vibrant and more productive medicines discovery sector will positively impact employment, economic growth and deliver better medicines for patients, faster. This is a key sector for UK plc.

Download State of the Discovery Nation 2019 >