Ten reflections from the FT's Pharma & Biotech Summit

November 14, 2022
5 minutes

Conference season continues with the Financial Times’s Global Pharma and Biotech Summit in London (November 2022). An impressive range of speakers covered all aspects of the industry. For those not able to attend, there were some consistent themes that emerged across the sessions. 

  1. Collaboration: Almost every session discussed the need for more collaboration in the life sciences industry, with the pandemic and technological innovations praised for showing what is possible. Many large pharma were aware that they may not have all the answers internally, and need to work with biotechs and academics in order to keep themselves fresh. As discussed in our recent update, there will be opportunities for dealmakers willing to explore a range of deal structures, including licensing and collaborations, or who keep teams together post acquisition. However, part of this may involve finding ways to share more intellectual property than has been the case to-date.
  1. The Role of the Academy: Despite being billed as a global summit, much of the conversation focused on Europe – often in contrast to the US and China. There was a general acknowledgement that Europe is home to some of the best academic scientists and universities, but also a recognition that this does not always translate into innovation (often to the benefit of US competitors). More is needed to leverage the expertise that exists within universities.
  1. The Role of Government: Building on the perceived failure of European academia to develop home-grown patents, there was also a feeling that European governments had failed to put life sciences at the heart of their industrial strategy. So often the industry is dealt with by health ministries, primarily through the lens of short term procurement. However, many believed that governments should take a more long term view and support what could be their leading industry. Part of this could include taking more practical actions, such as digitising medical records to create better data sets (as below).
  1. Communication: A key part of any collaboration or stakeholder building is communication. There was a recognition that the life sciences industry has historically had a mixed reputation, but that during the pandemic it had shown the benefits it can deliver for patients. Many speakers felt that now was the time for the industry to engage more with society, and bring the public with them (including explaining the costs and failures associated with R&D). This echoes the messaging from WIRED’s recent conference, as covered in our recent update.
  1. The Role of Patients (as their own medicine and data): Again communication remains crucial in building trust with patient communities, particularly as they become vital actors in their own treatment. For example, cell and gene therapies that use a patient’s own biology remain a hot topic with lots more investment expected in the coming years, as the area moves out of proof of concept and into healthcare. Similarly, while technological advances have made it easier than ever to capture patient data from day-to-day life, patients (and regulators) need to be educated about the benefits of sharing their data and participating in trials at scale. This is particularly crucial in long term and degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
  1. Trials need to be quicker and cheaper: One critique of the UK (as well as all countries) was the need to improve clinical trials. While safety remains paramount, a consistent view was that they need to be quicker, cheaper and more user friendly for patients, as well as greater recognition of trials in different countries. Concierge services and technological improvements (such as wearables) were praised – particularly for what they could do during the pandemic, but still don’t address all the issues. Part of this may involve pharma either building out its inhouse tech capabilities, or partnering more effectively with CROs and Silicon Valley. Reduced costs may also free up expenses for more innovation, bringing a diversification of risk.
  1. New technologies are here to stay: RNA and CAR-T therapies (as well as cell and gene more generally) were seen as having been vindicated in recent years, including becoming household names over the pandemic. There was much excitement about the potential application of these technologies across a range of targets. Cost and scale remain an issue; however, this also creates opportunities for new actors to move into this growing industry, and so drive greater competition.
  1. The need to help aging populations: In developed economies patients are living longer, bringing more pressures on healthcare systems. Many speakers discussed the need for the industry to help tackle this coming demographic shift. There was some introspection that studies in degenerative diseases may have spent too long focusing on only a few targets, whereas the solution seems to be more complex. However, part of this reflects the need for trials to be more reactive and intervene earlier (and so the need to be quicker and cheaper).
  1. The UK remains the life sciences capital of Europe: Many speakers praised the benefits of the UK’s NHS as a vehicle for healthcare innovation, particularly its ability to create large data sets such as Genomics England, UK Biobank and Our Future Health when working with charities and industry. In addition, the ‘Golden Triangle’ (of Oxford, Cambridge and London) has created an unparalleled hub for innovation, as we have noted previously. However, more is needed from a Government that has been distracted until recently.  
  1. ESG & Impact: The life sciences industry is now fully aware of its impact on the environment, whether in terms of emissions or medical waste (as in our recent update). Similarly, back to patients, there were also a number of discussions of health equity, femtech and measures to expand access, including which patient populations are prioritised by the new technologies. An openness and a sign of progress on these issues will also help to build credibility with the public – particularly as pharma seeks more patient data for studies.

Despite the joy of being at a physical conference again, the pandemic still loomed large over every discussion. The industry had put its best foot forward, whether in terms of collaborations, working with regulators and governments, tech and building trust with the public. There was a general sense that it was time for life sciences to build on that to solve the problems of tomorrow, including an aging population and climate change.