State of the Discovery Nation report shares insights into UK medicines discovery industry

State of the Discovery Nation published by MDC and BIA

Medicines Discovery Catapult and the BioIndustry Association (BIA) have unveiled 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 focused 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 focused on discovering potential new medicines; 70% are working in the areas of cancer, anti-infectives and the central nervous system.
  • 1200 companies provide vital services and supplies.
  • Despite their size, SMEs are a critical source of innovation for new medicines; 60% have fewer than five 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.

The 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.