Invest North: ‘The North has all the elements needed to make a huge difference in global health’

Invest North continued its conversation on innovation by looking at how the life sciences sector is thriving in the region.

With clusters and companies in the region that are renowned for their innovation, panellists discussed how the sector could increase its impact.

Chaired by The Business Desk’s North West Editor Shelina Begum, the audience heard from Tiffany Thorn the chief executive and founder of BiVictriX Therapeutics, Chris Yates the Chief Executive Officer of Abingdon Health and Professor Janet Hemingway, the founding Director of iiCON and Professor of Tropical Medicine at LSTM.

The pandemic shone a light on the life sciences sectors causing a very direct impact to each panellist’s organisation.

Abingdon Health manufactured Covid tests throughout the pandemic, leading to a rise in employment. The opportunity has also been a case study for testing to decentralise away from labs.

Yates said: “We see Covid acting really as a catalyst to allow a quite significant increase in self-testing and decentralisation of diagnostics.

“One of the things that we’re looking at is self-testing in other areas of infectious disease, so we are kicking off or have kicked off projects to develop a flu self-test, a Lyme disease self-test and hepatitis C self-test.”

The pandemic also proved how drug development can be quicker for companies. For Thorn and BiVictriX Therapeutics, the firm was able to access funding which led to floating on the stock market as an IPO.

Thorn said: “Due to the pressures of Covid, manufacturing groups have now effectively shortened the manufacturing timelines to GMP material. We can now look to get our drugs into the clinic into patients in half the time that they were quoting before the pandemic.”

Professor Hemingway at iiCON also received funding and has been able to pull platforms together to tackle infectious diseases quicker.

After receiving £18.6m of funding from the government pre-pandemic, the company was able to leverage it to £200m.

She said: “We’ve since helped companies get 12 new products through to the market to patients. That’s actually 2.6bn units of products that we’ve got out over that time period.

“We already had 22 cat three spaces, we had expertise in virology, albeit working on different viruses, so we were immediately able to pivot those over to working with COVID.”

As a result of Covid-19, all panellists agreed the landscape has changed for the way in which people consider infectious diseases.

Professor Hemingway said: “When I started talking about infectious diseases, certainly in the UK, most people thought, ‘you’re talking about malaria, that’s a disease kind of over there. We don’t need to worry about it’

“I think everybody now understands that infectious diseases are everybody’s problem. If we can continue to work together, in the collaborative fashion that Covid has almost forced us to do, then I think the north of England in particular, is in a really strong position to lead.

“It has all of the elements it needs, from early-stage activity and academic bases, right the way through to a strong manufacturing base, to really make a huge difference in health globally, but also locally as well.”