Updates from SMR Meeting: ‘The Innovation Landscape’

Back in July 2022 the SMR (Society for Medicines Research) hosted a conference on ‘Innovative new pharma and biotech partnerships: How is the landscape transforming?’ That conference looked at ongoing developments in pharmaceutical discovery and development, focused on the need for partnerships between large pharmaceutical and new biotech companies to tackle the next generation therapeutic challenges.

Since then, and predictably, there has been changes in the life sciences sector e.g. valuation readjustments, AI driven R&D, M&As and financing challenges. These changes in the landscape promise to introduce major steps forward in the evolution of life sciences and a greater opportunity for all stakeholders involved.  The aim of this meeting is to better understand these evolutionary trajectories and look at the further developments in that discovery space, but also introduce the important role of a third party, that of the academic research discovery sector.

Our colleague, Darcey Black co-organised (together with Andy Merrit, LifeArc, Mo Alavijeh, Pharmidex and Sam Butterworth, Manchester University) this update meeting and chaired one of the three main sessions, with excellent speakers presenting in each.  

The first, the role of academic groups in supporting drug discovery, was covered by Profs David Gray (Drug Discovery Unit, Dundee University) and Simon Ward (Medicines Discovery Unit, Cardiff University). Each described the approaches taken to establish and develop these industry-focussed research units, and the impact they have made particularly in the areas of tropical and rare diseases.  

The second session focussed on funding aspects of innovation. Beverly Isherwood (Medicines Discovery Catapult, MDC) described how MDC supported a range of early-stage drug discovery activities through working in collaboration to develop “bespoke” approaches for projects in MDC’s areas of interest (e.g. neuroscience, oncology). Lisa Thomas (The Pioneer Group) outlined how this organisation, as well as providing lab facilities across the UK, supported early-stage entrepreneurs in pharma and biotech through various coaching and funding programmes (In fact, TherapeutAix provides mentoring support to their current ‘Launch Programme’).  

The final session, looked at how partnerships, especially funding, could be built across academia, charities and industry. Tina Flatau (Sixfold Biosciences) described the challenges her company faces and emphasised the need to have more and varied funding models, together with need to retain and attract international talent in the UK. Both are necessary to make the growth possible. This was backed up by the presentation from Martin Main (MDC). The final two presentations dealt with the M&A environment (Pete Corish, BroadOak Partners) and biopharma deal landscape in the last 2 years (Daniel Marshal, MSD). The take-home message from both speakers was one of cautious optimism in both areas.  

As in the first meeting in 2022, the day was rounded off by a lively panel discussion with all the presenters, excellently moderated by Sam Fazeli (Bloomberg  Intelligence).  There were no shortage of questions and comments raised by the enthusiastic and interactive audience.  The overall view was that there is a lot of activity to support innovation in the UK, but the key to success is close collaboration between all stakeholders such as academia, organisations such as LifeArc and MDC, biotech and pharma and, of course, those that can provide funding.

All in all, another great meeting!

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