Feel the love: funding for emerging life sciences companies

If you’re an emerging life sciences company you may be feeling rather unloved at the moment, with pharma giant Pfizer and UK champion AstraZeneca being the key focus of media scrutiny. However, beyond this debate there is a thriving biopharmaceutical sector which may not be making the headlines but is doing what it does best – innovation.

Last week, BioTrinity 2014, the largest Biopartnering and Investment conference in the UK, took place. BioTrinity, organised by OBN, is now in its eighth year and has grown considerably to become an important forum for debating access to funding for companies based in the UK and further afield.

While BioTrinity has witnessed the funding highs and lows for emerging life sciences companies, this year felt different. The sun was shining, it was held in London for the first time, and it revealed that UK life sciences companies raised $1bn in 2013, the best fundraising year since 2007.

Yet what really caught my attention was the prominence given to communications, particularly for early-stage companies. Why now? 

Two things – recent government efforts to promote early stage life sciences and, as BioTrinity has shown, industry’s changing attitude towards and greater appetite for early stage investigational products.

  1. Government – In 2011, the UK government introduced its Strategy for UK Life Sciences, ironically prompted by heavy job losses after Pfizer closed its UK R&D facility in Sandwich in 2011. Measures include: increased R&D tax credits for SMEs; creating a patent box, which lowers corporation tax on profits from patents to 10%; and a £180m joint Medical Research Council/Technology Strategy Board Biomedical Catalyst to develop innovative technologies and attract private equity funding.
  2. Industry – There is no bar on something being too early, according to one delegate. It all comes back to the strength of the science and helping early stage companies, academics or institutions to communicate their value proposition.

As a result, corporate or private funders are more willing to invest early – and not just in monetary terms. This could mean providing resources in kind, such as specialist animal models or medicinal chemistry expertise. The key is to enable the partner to let it get on with innovation, even if there is no immediate return.

It is hard to imagine now but Pfizer and AstraZeneca were also early stage companies once. Times may have changed and so has the nature of drug development, but innovation hasn’t.     


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